America needs change. We’ve all known this for years, and we finally have a President Elect who shares the vision of a better America. The change campaign swept through this country, prompting millions of youth to take make their voices heard at the polling place, emphatically declaring that the time is now. However it’s one thing to talk about change, we must also be about it. Now that we have the power to effect change, what will we do with it? The time to roll up our sleeves is upon us and we all need to get busy. With an economy that is plunging daily, we must now examine the roots of this problem and devise a plan that effectively and inclusively involves all Americans in restoring our country and spreading the wealth equitably.
Presently, the employment rate is at rock bottom. Layoffs abound, and the unspoken last hired, first fired rule is in effect. At the same time, drop-outs rates are escalating, community college completion rates worsen and many youth workers who find themselves competing with college educated adults for a minimum wage job that will barely keep gas in their cars. Despite these facts, we’ve always known that large companies don’t hire those under age 25 for career level positions, not even at the entry level.
When the current outlook is so bleak, is it any wonder that youth are wondering why they should strive to enter the workforce or complete their education?
The recent election created a movement within the youth community that encouraged them to act, that convinced them that they matter, that change could occur. In fact, President Elect Obama got 23 million youth to the “polling place.” Now the question is: What will we do to get them to the “market place.” What do we need to do to ensure that the most disenfranchised of our youth get a chance at opportunity?
Change is coming, but where will it land? Will it hit the schools and youth programs? If we were tired of 8 years of backwards administration, we must be sick with 30 years of backwards youth policy. Although youth culture and the economy have dramatically changed in the past 30 years, many of our programs have not. We have to many 8-track programs and policies in a MP 3 world. I am not talking about computers and Star Trek distance learning systems (they don’t work), I’m talking about the technology of youth engagement – a science that for many program programs means nothing more than letting youth rap at the local youth conference.
Our youth facilities are still trying to crank up the 8-track player and wondering why youth aren’t listening. Sadly, we think technology is the answer. The youth who need our help want “High Touch and High Tech.” We are just getting the later. The cracks in misunderstanding between your average middle class teacher and hard to serve student have turned to craters. It is a sad state of affairs when we have invested more research and time in making the things of our world work better, but our interpersonal relationships remain stagnant. We are losing our youth, and unless we continue to promote change in every aspect of our lives, we will only be talking about it, and as we all know, talk is cheap.
If President Elect Obama got youth’s attention through bottom up, grassroots efforts and organizing; then we need a bottom-up grassroots approach to youth education and workforce development.
At no time in history has the challenge to the future economic opportunity of out nations’ youth been most at-risk. The rising cost of college, and the lack of any tangible success for the sacrifice perpetuates the cloud of despair that is the reality that many youth face. Has it ever been more apparent that we need change? There is a glaring neon sign that says now is the time, but where do we start?
Here are some suggestions:
-Encourage active participation of youth, obtaining their input in redesigning current programs and policies.
-Create a service corps of well trained and properly supported youth in the community promoting life, freedom and FEO (credentials, skills, degrewes, networks and work experience).
-Invest in research to determine why our youth and workforce system has been unable to engage the youth they are intended to reach.
-Incorporate workers’ rights training and education in all curriculum and job training programs
-Ensure that youth culturally competent mental health and substance abuse counseling is made readily available.
-Guarantee transitional jobs for all program graduates.
-Promote the use of the youth cultural competence approach to change program climates and community direction.
Engaging and supporting disconnected youth comes with many challenges. Yet the results of our success will impact all facets of society and rebuild stronger communities. Let us listen to their voices as they share their ideas for eradicating the perpetual cycle of poverty and inequality that they are caught within. Let their voices guide us to learn new ways to replace this despair with hope, healing and confidence in a newer, brighter tomorrow.
Reach all Youth