By Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

MentorshipI was always a little jealous of people who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Looking back, it seems as if certain school-age peers of mine were inspired to become doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officers, musicians or actors long before I developed an understanding of what useful skills and talents I possessed. Some friends and acquaintances even had plans in place to help achieve their goals and aspirations, while I struggled to determine what hobbies and activities I wanted to pursue in the short term.

What I realize now, though, is it took certain people coming into my life at the right time and in the right circumstances to help me chart a proper course through my childhood and into adulthood. But perhaps what’s more notable is, at times, I didn’t appreciate (or even recognize) the profound effects a number of people had on my personal growth and professional development over the years.

It was always easy for me to see the impact my high school history teacher and cross country and track coach had on me as a young man, or the efforts put forth by my favorite college journalism lecturer and student newspaper advisor to prepare me and others to make it in the work world as full-time writers and reporters. By virtue of their roles as educators, the two men made their living inspiring and shaping countless young minds over the years. Their influence was considerable, and their impact was obvious. And so I’ve always been appreciative of everything they’ve done for me.

Over time, however, I’ve started to recall the contributions of others in the past and present. Maybe it’s because I’m older, more experienced, and (presumably) wiser. But I think it’s because I’ve spent more than a decade in the work world and have been exposed to all types of people, institutions, policies and ideas. Therefore, I'm able to better discern who I am, what I’m about, and what matters to me.

I’ve been lucky to have a few key people act as mentors for me over the years, but the words and actions of many others have also made a lasting impact on me both personally and professionally. And their effects aren’t always immediately realized. So while people in positions of power and influence are often quick to understand others are paying attention to what they do and say, they aren't the only ones who can  – and do – make a significant difference in shaping the thoughts and experiences of others.

It's a fact that is front of mind for me when I consider how the scarcity of skilled workers is one of the most significant issues facing equipment manufacturers today. And while AEM and its elected leaders are committed to building momentum for the industry and ensuring its bright future, it’s ultimately the role of everyone – whether they are C-suite executives, manufacturing lineworkers, or even association newsletter editors – to serve as industry ambassadors in both word and deed.

It can be all too easy for us to simply focus on opportunities and challenges affecting ourselves, our specific jobs, and equipment manufacturing in the short term. But it's critically important to invest some amount of time and energy into considering how to best serve as a bridge for young people to gain a foothold in our industry.

I didn’t get to where I’m at in my career by accident. I was inspired, developed and taught by people who came before me. Some are aware of the difference they made, but many aren’t. And it’s that fact that guides how I approach my role at AEM and as a representative for our industry. Because, as I’ve discovered over the years, you never know who’s watching, listening and – most importantly – learning from what you say and do.

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