Retiree's Lunch Update June 2022

Written by  Dr Richard Thwaites, FRACI CChem

Published 29 August 2022

Guest Speaker: Dave Sammut


Dave Sammut has been described as the father of the RACI Mentoring Program.  If not its father, then certainly its inspiration and the driving force behind it.   Dave’s enthusiasm for the whole concept of mentoring clearly shone through in his presentation to the Retirees’ Group at its Virtual Lunch on June 7th.

From relatively modest beginnings in NSW, the RACI Mentoring Program has grown into an operation covering all states and territories (except the NT) and over time has involved hundreds if not thousands of people as mentors and mentees.  It has expanded beyond mentor-mentee pairs into the RACI Careers Development program that reaches over 2,000 students and early career scientists per year, and is therefore one of the most valuable RACI initiatives in terms of benefiting younger members of the Institute.  Dave is still the driving force behind the program but is now just one member of a whole committee which contributes to the running of mentoring and careers events, and the whole program is now generously sponsored by DCS Technical, Envirolab P/L and Laboratory Credit Union.  The program is self-funding but is hoping for a Federal Government grant (which has been applied for) to enable it to expand further.

Dave explained how he got into mentoring:  someone asked him to be his mentor!  As background, about 7 years  into his career, Dave took a job as a recruitment consultant, and it very quickly became apparent that many good candidates just had absolutely no idea how to handle a good job application.  So he started giving lectures at various universities around Sydney explaining how the recruitment system works and how to improve one’s chances of getting a dream job.  And eventually one of the audience members asked him if he could be his mentor.  Dave was flattered by the suggestion and decided to “give it a go”, and quite quickly realized the value of being a good mentor.

Dave provided various statistics to demonstrate how the program had expanded over the ten years it has been in operation, and emphasized its objectives which included improving the work readiness of mentees, developing their skills in finding jobs, providing networking opportunities and encouraging mentees (even the most introverted of them) to go out and meet people and establish their own professional networks.  In the context of the latter, RACI programs like the Chemraderie series of virtual get-togethers, hosted by Dave, and involving mentees, mentors and anybody else in the Institute who would like to join in were regarded as very useful, as were other RACI Group and Division activities.  Developing one’s own profile among one’s peers, and potential employers, was invaluable.

Dave emphasized the key aspect of the program to benefit younger mentees, namely Networking.  He urged older members of the Institute, like the Retirees, to consider acting as Mentors, even when they had been out of the workforce for some time.  He noted that endeavors were always made to try and pair mentors and mentees with similar career patterns and objectives.  (For example, people who had had a career in industry would be paired with a mentee with industrial career ambitions, patent attorneys would be paired with a mentee who wanted to focus on IP, and academics would be paired with aspiring professors.  On the other hand, one extremely valuable attribute of the mentoring program was to open the eyes of mentees to the large range of potential job opportunities outside mainstream chemistry laboratory careers open to chemistry graduates.)

Towards the end of his talk, Dave mentioned the careers map project, something he has wanted to initiate for several years.  The concept is to gather information from senior people in the RACI, to get them to talk about their careers:  for some their career trajectory has been fairly linear, but for many there have been all sorts of twists and turns.  (For example, as a new graduate from a UK university, I had no idea that I would eventually end up in Australia…)

Dave noted that the RACI was not unique in having established a mentoring program, and referred to mentoring programs of other societies like the AIFST.  He said that the common feature of all was the need to have a champion.

Dave admitted that although his start in life was somewhat inauspicious, he has subsequently been able to become a very successful businessman.  In establishing and running RACI Mentoring and Careers programs, he said he felt very thankful to have had the opportunity to give back to the world a meaningful and measurable contribution to help others.

The dozen or so members and friends who heard Dave’s presentation all came away very impressed with his enthusiasm and the professionalism of the Mentoring Program that has been such a valuable contribution to the RACI.

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