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Mentoring the Next Generation of ITW Leaders

“Being a mentor, sharing my current and past experiences with Katie and helping her achieve her goals is rewarding...Her continued development is important to me and ITW.” Aaron Leigh

Katie Cudworth has been working as a manufacturing engineer at ITW Deltar Fasteners, a division of ITW’s Automotive segment, for about 2 1/2 years. She’s excited for the possibilities ahead as she continues to learn and grow as a professional, but like most early in their career, she isn’t certain of the ultimate destination.

That uncertainty used to make the goal-oriented Cudworth uncomfortable. Now, thanks to the encouragement and support of Aaron Leigh, a North American sales and engineering director at ITW StampTech Fasteners™, she’s learned to embrace the feelings of freedom and clarity that come with focusing on the present.

Cudworth and Leigh have been talking at least once a month since being paired in a mentor-mentee relationship as part of the Automotive Leadership Development Program (ALDP) in January 2022.

“Talking to Aaron has given me the peace of mind that it’s OK to not exactly know where I want my career to go,” said Cudworth. “There’s not just one path. It’s important to keep talking to people that can help me explore the many possible options.”

Preparing next generation of leaders

The goal of the two-year ALDP is to develop a diverse and sustainable talent pipeline within the Automotive segment, which includes 10 divisions, and more broadly throughout the company. Based on ITW’s 70-20-10 professional development model, the program prioritizes on-the-job training (70%) and complements that with mentorship (20%) and formal, classroom instruction (10%).

“The program is designed to accelerate the development of early career talent,” said Penny Barnes, human resources talent development manager with ITW Automotive North America. “It provides participants exposure to business leaders across the segment and fosters peer-to-peer networking opportunities.”

ALDP's first cohort, which began in January 2022, includes 11 colleague pairs. The second cohort, which started in August 2022, is comprised of 15.

Cudworth and Leigh were nominated and selected to participate through formal, parallel interview paths led by their respective divisions. Each created a profile to identify career aspirations, functional areas and hobbies, and were matched for their compatibility.

“I appreciate the holistic approach that is taken when forming the mentoring partnerships,” said Leigh, who is approaching her 19th year with ITW. “Identifying commonalities up front is important to helping participants connect on a deeper level.”

Both avid runners, lighthearted conversation about Cudworth’s training for her next half or full marathon make it easier to have deeper, career-focused conversations. “Developing a personal connection is important,” said Leigh. “You have to build a foundation of trust before you can have the vulnerable conversations often necessary to spur growth.”

Cudworth agreed, noting she has sought her mentor’s advice about work situations and opportunities that she would’ve otherwise tried to solve on her own. “I tend to internalize things,” said Cudworth. “It’s been great having a mentor to go to with things I would otherwise keep to myself.”

While most meetups have been virtual since Cudworth is in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and Leigh is based in Rochester, Michigan, the colleagues have made the most of their in-person visits. For example, when visiting an ITW StampTech Fasteners™ facility in Tennessee, Cudworth was not only able to connect with Leigh, but also with other manufacturing engineering peers and ITW StampTech Fasteners™ team members.

“Networking is an important part of my professional development,” said Cudworth. “As I grow and develop in my career, I can take those types of experiences and learn from them.”

Similarly, Leigh appreciates the opportunity to positively impact Cudworth’s career. “Being a mentor, sharing my current and past experiences with Katie and helping her achieve her goals is rewarding,” said Leigh. “Her continued development is important to me and ITW.”

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