Are the majority of participants in our nation’s employment and training system finding themselves in high wage/high growth jobs? Or are they finding themselves working where they used to work or not working at all? Despite the best efforts of our nation’s job training system, many youth simply find themselves still entangled in the youth labor market—a place characterized by low pay, no benefits, demanding schedules and job requirements that bite significantly into their paltry wages.
“The Forgotten Half—Non-College Bound Youth in America,” a national report on the status of youth employment in our country, states that many large corporations don’t hire youth for career level jobs, even at the entry level position. In fact, studies point out that employers these days are reluctant to hire native born youth, under the age of 25, and who reside within the local community for even the most basic of employment – the fast food position.
In many of my presentations I ask employment and training providers, “are we getting them started just to get them stuck.” Given this chilling bit of reality, it is time for policy makers to explore new ideas on how to reduce the 40% youth unemployment rate among our nation’s high school drop-outs.
While many policy makers still think all they need to do is solve the skills mismatch crisis – just give the youth the skills needed by business and they will get employed – the opportunity to engage and purposefully employ today’s youth is slipping through the cracks. Rather than thinking outside the box, our political representatives are missing the mark and it’s time to change gears and focus to a new and integrated way of operating.
Would you believe that your youth workforce system is a pathway to opportunity if you were a youth who saw the majority of their peers coming out of the system unemployed or underemployed?
Of course not!
Issues of racism, discrimination, and the failure of the school system are subjects that the workforce development community does not like to talk about. Although the President’s intent to inspire when telling our drop-outs that when they drop-out of school, they are dropping out on their country. The truth is we dropped the ball on these youth a long time ago.
It is time to put youth to work and stop hoping that the already decimated business community is going to rush to employ those with so many barriers to future economic success. Let’s start by creating a reason for youth to invest in, subscribe to, and complete our programs. Let’s offer guaranteed transitional jobs to all of our program graduates. Give our youth the opportunity to serve us with the skills that we have deemed imperative for them to acquire. Reward them by leveling the playing field and allowing them to take their place on that field rather than watching idly from the sidelines.
Let’s stop asking how do we serve youth and let them serve us where they are needed most – in the communities where they live and play. An important characteristic for success in working with youth is the ability to communicate. Youth workers must know the language, attitudes and disposition of the target population. These qualities are best obtained if a percentage of youth workers are themselves a part of the local community. We must at all costs connect our youth to opportunities that reach beyond hanging in the streets and afford them the chance to be productive and meaningful contributors to our society.
Here are some recommendations for immediate youth job creations program.
Youth Outreach and Orientation Departments
Every federally funded social service organization should be mandated and funded to institute and support a department of Youth Outreach and Orientation. Here local youth can be trained and employed to address the insidious actions, behaviors and beliefs that misdirect the energy of millions of youth in low-income communities.
Utilizing youth in these departments can be an essential force in reaching at-risk youth at times and places when most educators won’t. They can help get the word out to high risk youth about the availability of education, workforce and social services, as well as correct much of the bad information that currently exists about these services.
Youth Educational Ambassadors
Given the number of youth who are not reading at grade level, we need to stop the idealistic thinking that schools are going to reach them. I remember trying to recruit one at-risk young man, who told me, “I went to public schools and they kicked me out. The public transportation system doesn’t want to stop on my block. The Public defender is jerking me. So, what makes you think I’m all excited to be in your publicly funded program?”
That is the reality we are dealing with, and it’s time for our government to “wake up and smell the coffee.” We need to get innovative programs to the youth, reach out where they live, in their neighborhoods; on their stoops, and in their living rooms. Youth Educational Ambassadors are the key. By using youth trained to help those reading four or five grades levels below them we can implement a culturally competent curriculum that will effectively connect to those at-risk youth in a way that we have only wished for. What’s more, the effective use of youth to reach others is the best possible promotion a program could hope for.
Youth Program and Policy Improvement Committees.
Many of the nation’s youth educational service programs are on life support and young people are pulling the plug. To help improve the relevance of youth services to the young people they serve establish youth representation in human services organizations, school boards, and policy organizations. The key benefit is the utilization of youth popular culture to draw others to the organizations by making them look more youth friendly. Additionally, soliciting youth input in the staff hiring process and evaluation of services ensures a much more effectively run program as it speaks directly to the needs of the youth that will be served.
High wage/high growth jobs are obtainable, just maybe not all in the private sector. Let’s invest in our youth to lead us into a brighter today and a more promising tomorrow.