Ricki Fleming was one of the first mentees when the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program began seven years ago.
There were just five participants and while everyone liked the idea of pairing young producers with industry leaders, it was all a bit of an experiment.
“When we first started it as a pilot, nobody knew how it would evolve,” said Fleming, now the renewals co-ordinator with Verified Beef Production Plus. “Everybody wanted to continue because they could see what opportunities were out there.”
And continue it did, expanding to 16 spots, which are keenly sought by young people from across the country.
Back in 2010, a 23-year-old Fleming was a trailblazer. She had been active in 4-H for many years, helped to found the Alberta Junior Angus Association, and was armed with a diploma in agriculture technology and animal science. And while keen to participate in the wider beef sector, it was all a bit intimidating.
“The networking is huge,” said Fleming. “It’s difficult to step into some of those conferences or meeting rooms.”
But the program gave her the confidence to be able to do that, she said, praising the mentorship of veterinarians Craig Dorin and Mike Jelinski, who are both managing partners of Veterinary Agri-Health Services in Airdrie.
“To this day, we stay in touch,” said Fleming, who lives near Granum and operates a purebred cow-calf operation with her husband and parents.
Fleming visited Dorin and Jelinski, was frequently in touch by phone or email, and was even able to sit in on some of their client calls at feedlots and larger cattle operations. She was managing a research farm at a lab in Lethbridge at the time, and used her mentors as a resource for many different things. The program also allowed her to attend the conference of what was then the Five Nations Beef Alliance (consisting of Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Mexico) in Denver. She also went to a meeting of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the main American cattle organization.
“It was neat to be part of that and work with some of the other youth,” she said. “At the end of the day, we all have our different issues in each country, but what it boiled down to were the same issues.”
She still keeps in touch with many of the people she met at these conferences. And she’s seen graduates of the program become involved in the beef sector. As part of her mentorship, Fleming also participated in some industry meetings and saw that organizations were in need of younger people.
“Sometimes it’s nice to have those younger voices around the tables,” she said. “When you sat around all those tables, the age was a little older than what you would like to see.
“In the purebred breed associations, there are a lot of good young individuals with good leadership skills, but there is a gap between their junior career and sitting around the board table. This is one of the ways to bridge that gap.”
Fleming recommends that any interested youth apply to the young leaders’ program. Even if they don’t land a spot, people will learn a lot from the application and interview process, and will make some good connections.
While the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders is a great learning experience, there are many ways to build your networks and that’s invaluable, she said.
“It builds some of those essential skill sets that people need to be successful in life and in the industry.”