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Have time to mentor?

The air cargo sector often complains that outsiders neglect our business, don't understand it, or are not attracted to it. In my view this is because we don't spend enough time thinking about and discussing who we are.

Air cargo has very visible infrastructure and vehicles: huge cargo warehouses, dollies carrying pallets and containers – not to mention the aircraft themselves. But these are just the tools of our trade: they are what we use.

We spend countless hours at exhibitions and conventions discussing some of the less visible aspects: the extraordinarily complex processes, handling shipments of every size and shape requiring different transport conditions as they are carried to every corner of the world.

We have been working in recent years to become a little better at explaining how air freight contributes to the world, such
as supporting the efficient supply chains needed for globalisation, international trade and development, along with delivering vital medicines and equipment, high-tech goods and fashion, perishable food and luxury items. But this is just what we do.

Yet who we are is central to the success of any company, and it is most certainly the key to the success of my own company. We identify and discuss our values. We share them with our customers and our suppliers. They are not just a resource, they are our identity, our culture, the way we distinguish ourselves from our numerous competitors.

At the same time, an organisation evolves, and we are constantly recruiting new talented, motivated individuals. We are reaching out to universities and involving students in projects or addressing them at their place of study to share the attractions of our industry.

I was, therefore, delighted when recently introduced to Christine Dunton-Tinnus, the founder and owner of Createtalent, a specialist mentoring organisation. As a leader, of course I like to be a mentor to any high-potential recent recruit within my own company. But I recently signed up to Createtalent's mentoring programme, which brings seasoned executives and young individuals from outside their company together.

Createtalent's mission is to help and develop the next generation of young talents through a professionally supported, one-to-one relationship with a mentor. The organisation has identified that one in three young people do not have a mentor and that university curriculums often do not focus on solving 'real-world' problems. A young person also does not have the established professional network needed to gain access to the business world or to leverage the connections and knowledge to make good decisions.

At the same time, the programme provides companies with the opportunity to attract and retain talent at an early stage and develop their skills for the future.

Mentors also often report feeling good about making a contribution and giving something back to the next generation. But the experience often has unexpected benefits for both parties. For one thing, the current generation of graduates are in most cases more up-to-date than their more experienced colleagues when it comes to current technology and social networking trends, potentially opening your organisation and your way of working to interesting questions and to new and innovative approaches.

The concept is straightforward: companies and universities register themselves on a neutral platform, which organises and ensures quality control. The companies in turn can register mentors, while the universities register Masters-level students as mentees. An online matchmaking platform allows students to directly connect with a mentor of their choice based on their indicated area of interest. Once mentor is matched with mentee, mentorship begins. All sounds very procedural, but it is sheer joy.

So at a time when we talk about needing to bring new blood and new ideas to our industry, I urge all freight leaders out there to give this new model of mentoring a try. You can't know how rewarding it can be until you do.

For more information, please visit http://www.createtalent.org

 - Oliver Evans is the chief cargo officer for Swiss International Air Lines

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