Mentoring Young People in Michigan: DeAnte Thompkins Shares His Experiences

Thompkins presentingv2

DeAnte Thompkins conferring at the podium

DeAnte Thompkins has hired and mentored more than 600 high school students as director of MDOT’s Metro Region Youth Development and Mentoring Program (YDMP), a program he was once in himself. MDOT’s twelve-week program provides summer job training as a foundation for entering transportation-related careers. We recently asked him some questions about his experience with mentorship programs.

What’s a typical work week for the students in the program?

Participants in the program work a standard forty-hour work week. The week is generally broken down into three days of work in the field and two days of mentoring activities. Over the last several years, we have partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources so that the students could help in the beautification efforts of Belle Isle State Park. This provides a very safe work environment for students while still making an impact on a gem of Metro Detroit.

What are some actual student paths after finishing the program?

We have a number of success stories that have come as a result of being exposed to our Youth Development and Mentoring program.  After being exposed to the opportunities in transportation, we have kids go on to major in civil engineering. We have a gentleman that has been with YDMP since roughly 2009 who decided to become an aircraft mechanic because of what he saw during our mentoring event at MDOT’s Aeronautics garage in Lansing. We have other students that went on to get skilled trades certifications because of exposure to that career path.

students in truck simulator

Students try out a truck simulator, one of the methods used by YDMP to spur interest in transportation-related careers


Although our overall goal is to expose students to transportation-related careers, our greater goal is to push continued education, in some capacity, beyond high school. We do everything we can to ensure this, from helping students with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to helping them fil out actual college applications. Every student who comes out of our program has developed a five-year plan to reach their goals.

What was your personal path through the program and how did it help you afterward? What value has the program brought to MDOT and the students?

I started in the program in 2007 as a Supervisor while home from my first year of college (Northwood University). My job was to mentor and guide five high school students in hopes that I could inspire them to go to college and take the path that I chose. I came back to work every single summer after that, always advancing up in the leadership ranks while trying to maximize my impact on students. Being well versed in the program afforded me an opportunity to interview for the position that I am currently in once I graduated college. The program taught me a great deal about accountability, networking, various administrative duties, and most importantly the value and impact of shaping a young life.

This program is a gem for MDOT. We truly believe that we must invest in our youth in order to make an impact on the community. The students rate the program very highly and want to retain positions in our program for following years.

What does someone need to know now if he/she is thinking of starting a summer mentorship program?

If someone is looking to start a summer mentoring program, I’d advise creating a structure that works for their company. It’s important you start small and grow your program up the maximum capacity. Taking on too much at once in the beginning could lead to employee burnout.

Once you figure out the capacity you can handle, put the right people in position to make an impact on those getting mentored. Everyone is not a good mentor. There has to be a level of passion that is present in order to have the maximum effect on others. If a person is not vested in the vision of the mentorship program, there will likely be some disconnect that will have a negative effect on your core goals.

Portrait of a recent YDMP goup

A recent YDMP group gathers for a photo

What are three activities people wishing to emulate your program’s success might start today?

Leadership Training – It is important that mentors understand your vision for the mentorship program. They are a direct extension of you, so it’s extremely critical that they abide by all of the guidelines that are in place. We evaluate each mentor on their leadership style through having them take a simple questionnaire. The questionnaire is beneficial to the mentor because it allows them to reflect and adjust certain characteristics that they have for the greater good of the team. We also train our leadership on all paperwork, policies, safety (first aid, vehicles, PPE and CPR), situational events, and lay out all expectations prior to the mentees being onboard.

Partnership Events – Partnering with leaders in the industry has proven to be pivotal in taking our program to the next level. We have created many events such as Engineering Discovery Day where we partner with a University and industry partners to teach student’s multiple aspects of civil engineering through presentations and hands on activities, while providing a college atmosphere for them to dream about and learn from. Networking to find industry partners that have the same goals and passion as you will help you greatly in the long run.

Strategic Recruitment – We recruit for both our leadership positions as well as our student positions. Students in our program must have at least a 2.5 GPA as well as provide us with a letter of recommendation. I also made it a point to network with the local universities so that we got a diverse applicant pool of leaders from multiple universities for our program. Leveraging partnerships on both the high school and collegiate level, as well as from community groups, has helped us get a great pool of applicants that are eligible for our program. Over a period of years, your recruitment efforts will ease up because of it will begin to spread widely through word of mouth and contacts will begin coming to you instead of you trying to seek out everyone else.

For more information about the MDOT Metro Youth Development and Mentoring Program (YDMP), go to or contact DeAnte Thompkins at

This profile of DeAnte Thompkins is the first in a regular series of articles highlighting efforts being made here in the Midwest to address transportation workforce issues.
We’d like to tell your story, too. Click here to fill out our simple form to get the ball rolling. We know there are great efforts being made across the region. Let’s share our successes!

Webinar “Developing the Transportation Talent Pipeline” Now Available Online

MTWC’s March 15, 2016 webinar, “Developing the Transportation Talent Pipeline Webinar,” is now available on our website. You may access it by clicking here or going to our Resources Tab.

This event was sponsored by Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Education and Training (ABG20) and the National Network for the Transportation Workforce.

Interested in other Transportation Talent Development Webinars? Check out our sponsor’s websites:

Webinar: Developing the Transportation Talent Pipeline

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
1:00-2:30pm Central (2:00-3:30pm Eastern)

Unfilled jobs hurt the competitive position of our businesses and our nation. This discussion will help leaders from business and industry, economic development, education, and workforce development learn about proven strategies for enhancing employer competitiveness and profitability through improved access to skilled workers.

Moderated and facilitated by Teresa Adams, Director, Midwest Transportation Workforce Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Why Must Industry Lead and How They Can Do It
    Michael Baker, Manager Strategic Planning & Innovation, Illinois Department of Commerce
  • Strategies for Effective Business Engagement
    Trina Whatley, Business Relations Specialist, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
  • Expanding Employer Leadership in Managing the Talent Pipeline
    Jason Tyszko, Executive Director, Center for Education and Workforce, US Chamber of Commerce Foundation

This webinar is free and open to the public, but is limited to 100 participants. You must register to participate.

*** Registration is now closed. A recording of the webinar will be available on March 16, 2016.***

Click here to for more information.

FHWA Releases Overview of US Job Needs and Priorities

The Federal Highway Administration recently released the Executive Summary and National Overview: US Transportation Job Priorities and Needs report, which provides a high-level overview of the methodology and results of the Job Needs and Priorities research undertaken by the five regional transportation workforce centers that make up the NNTW.

This report discusses the transportation industry, drivers of transportation needs, and the transportation workforce in each region and then describes the key occupations across the five regions and analyzes and categorizes these occupations based on labor market data.

Read the complete summary.

MTWC Director Presents Job Needs and Priorities at 2016 TRB Annual Meeting

The five regional transportation workforce center directors–including MTWC Director Teresa Adams–convened at the 94th annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) meeting in Washington, DC on January 13, 2016 to present the findings of each region’s Job Needs and Priorities Report.


The presentation began with an overview of the National Network for the Transportation Workforce’s (NNTW) three-phase research methodology used by each center to generate and analyze historic, current, and future occupational estimates for all priority transportation occupations identified. After this overview, each center director gave an individual assessment of their region’s unique characteristics and challenges, top priority occupations, and strategies to address those workforce gaps.

The presentation concluded with a side-by-side analysis of each state’s priority occupations, allowing the viewer to compare and contrast regions’ needs against one another.

MTWC at the 2016 TRB Annual Meeting

Building a National Network for the Transportation Workforce: Job Needs and Priorities by Region
8:00-9:45am on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 
Convention Center, 152B
Sessions #748

The National Network for the Transportation Workforce (NNTW)–which includes the Midwest Transportation Workforce Center–is presenting a session (#748) at the 2016 TRB Annual Meeting. In this session, the NNTW will present findings from Phase I of each regional center’s Job Needs and Priorities Report and elaborate on the transportation workforce landscape at the national and regional levels. A panel comprised of the NNTW regional center directors will discuss data methodologies, use of labor market real-time intelligence, state versus regional priorities, and how occupations analytics are guiding regional center activities. This panel discussion will consider the following questions:

  • What was most revealing about the data at the regional level?
  • What resources did you use to capture both workforce supply and demand at the regional level?
  • What is the impact of these findings for the National Network?
  • What are the next steps in the development of the regional and national workforce profiles?

This session is sponsored by the Standing Committee on Transportation Education and Training (ABG20)

Workforce Initiatives in the Midwest

At the MTWC Strategic Advisory Meeting in April 2015, attendees identified a number of possible initiatives for improving transportation workforce development in the Midwest. In the interim, stakeholder groups have continued to discuss and refine these initiatives.

These initiative descriptions will inform discussions about many of these topics at the upcoming Midwest Transportation Workforce Summit, as well as provide a strategic direction for the Center’s ongoing work.

Wittwer to Present at 2015 Wisconsin Tribal Transportation Conference

MTWC consultant Ernie Wittwer will present at the 2015 Wisconsin Tribal Transportation Conference. His session, entitled Midwest Transportation Workforce Center–Addressing the Future Now is scheduled for 3:30-4:14pm on November 4. Wittwer will talk about the MTWC and it’s work, and the upcoming Summit in particular.

For more information see the 2015 Wisconsin Tribal Transportation Conference agenda.