I spent this weekend reading Harvard Graduate School of Education’s February 2011 report, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. I’m really getting into the issue of youth workforce development–because of my day-to-day work as the director of teen employment at DC Public Library, but also because so many things have begun to converge around the issue. Amongst them:
- At the library we’re seeing a steadily increasing influx of job seekers of all ages, and we’re working towards a strategy to best meet the public’s need. We developed the Jobseekers portal on our website to assist, but we’re seeing the level of need is much higher and calls for more direct one-on-one coaching than a website can provide.
- In late August, NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang (who volunteered at our teen radio program last year!) did a report on the staggaringly high rate of teen unemployment, which in some areas of DC is at 50%.
- The Urban Alliance, a youth workforce development non-profit based in DC, recently issued a call to partner with organizations to bring their comprehensive package of workforce development workshops to teens, at no cost to the organizations. This is to try to meet the need in the out-of-school environment, since it’s not being met in school.
- This summer, based on feedback from some of DCPL’s Teens of Distinction, the library piloted the “Shadow Your Future” program, whereby teens could shadow a professional for a half-day to see what a day-in-the-life of that career is like, and to learn the different paths to getting there. They said they had absolutely no clue “what’s out there”.
While my teens in the Educational Video Center’s 2002 Documentary Workshop identified the gap between what they learn in school and what connection it has to the “real world”, the critical need for integrating career exploration and preparation into school work hadn’t really crystalized for me. I know that I hated school (loved learning, though!) and didn’t see why I had to go everyday, when there were so many other exiting and stimulating ways that I could have spent my time (I grew up in DC, home to the best free university in the world–the Smithsonian Institution!). I also know that even when I graduated from Oberlin College, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I felt like whatever it was, I needed more training in order to really be able to do it.
Harvard’s report struck a cord with me, because of its emphasis on quality, holistic programs. The solutions lay at the nexus between intellectual development, workforce development, creative development, and “positive youth development”–all as facilitated by an engaged community of adults who can help support young people through their transition to independence.