Rick Dalton discusses how to help low-income students become ready for 21st century careers.
It was supposed to be a night of pure celebration when 55 recent college grads from Harlem and the Bronx gathered at New York City’s Harvard Club to share insights on how they had overcome obstacles. I knew all these young adults through their involvement with College for Every Student (CFES), an organization that helps low-income students get to and through college.
While it was exhilarating to hear so many success stories, I was upset when I learned that one of the graduates, Maria, had to move back in with her single mother because she hadn’t found a job.
“I ended up becoming a psych major because my dorm advisor freshman year was taking psychology courses. It was all so random. No one talked to me about how to get a job after graduation. I didn’t really understand what my career options were,” Maria confessed to me that night.
Preparing our students for college success isn’t enough. We also need to ready them for the workforce. That’s a tough task when you consider that, according to the Business Roundtable, 62 percent of employers report that most job applicants don’t have the qualifications businesses need.
To help low-income students become ready for 21st century careers and narrow this skills gap, a group of international leaders from the fields of education, business and philanthropy recently gathered at a summit in Essex, NY.
Four strategies emerged from the summit:
Over the last two decades, I’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of mentoring, a driving force in our efforts to boost higher education aspirations and degree attainment. Every one of the more than 75,000 CFES Scholars who has gone to college had at least one mentor during their pre-collegiate years.
Employees from Ernst & Young, for example, volunteer to work with low-income students until they complete their postsecondary degree. In the College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) program, EY employees offer college access assistance to high school-aged students and later provide help with writing resumes and job interviews.
We need to expand on these types of programs and explore other innovative mentorship programs. If just 100 businesses can come together and create programs where their employees serve as mentors, we believe more than 20,000 mentors can be mobilized to prepare young people for a changing workforce.
Close the Career Information Gap
Students need to know what types of jobs are available now, and where the jobs will be in the future. They also need to know what credentials these jobs will require, and how to find career internships.
We can all help close this information gap. Teachers can connect classroom learning to real-world lessons from the workplace. Mentors need to help young people explore the 21st century job-landscape. Employers need to reach out to schools, especially to those in low-income communities, to forge partnerships that provide speakers, mentors and internships.
Build STEM Readiness
Closing the information gap begins by ensuring that low-income students understand the possibilities in STEM study and careers. While STEM-related jobs will increase by nearly 10 million over the next seven years, low-income students now earn fewer than 3 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees.
We need to provide young people firsthand exposure to STEM careers and study. Professionals and college students studying in STEM fields make ideal mentors and role models.
Develop the ‘Essential Skills’
When we ask our CFES alumni how they overcame obstacles, they talk about the impact of aspirations, teamwork, grit and adaptability — what CFES refers to as the “Essential Skills.”
These skills are vital for success in both education and the workforce. We recommend students devote at least 30 hours annually to activities — peer mentoring, goal setting, interacting with role models — that can help them develop the Essential Skills.
It Takes the Entire Village
These four strategies can be implemented immediately to narrow the skills gap. Policymakers, employers, educators, parents, mentors and community leaders must all play a role in helping young people become ready for careers and jobs in the new economy.
CFES and Trinity College Dublin have made a joint commitment to help 1 million low-income youth attain college degrees by 2025. Recognizing that we can’t do it alone, we have pledged to create 100 new business/education partnerships in the United States, Ireland and other countries within the next 24 months.
Although this is a global problem, it must be solved locally by stakeholders who best understand their own cultures and issues. We need you — business leaders, educators, concerned citizens — to get involved. Become a mentor, speak with students about careers, make sure they know about STEM and help them develop the Essential Skills. It takes a village, both global and local. And it begins with each one of us.
(Top image: Courtesy of College For Every Student)
This is part of a multi-week series on the U.S. skills gap, presented in conjunction with the GE Foundation’s conference, Bridging the Gap: Success for Tomorrow with STEM Skills Today. Follow @GE_Foundation for the live updates on the conference.
Rick Dalton is the Founder, President & CEO of College For Every Student.