We’re all aware of the talent gap, how there soon won’t be enough skilled workers for certain types of positions, especially in technology fields. Traditional education continues to prepare students for careers in STEM, but it can’t meet the capacity alone. And there are plenty of people who either do not have access or are not suited for success in the traditional university education system. This is just as important to address as the talent gap if we want to maximize the number of people who are prepared for the demands of the future workforce.
For the past couple of years, we’ve been supporting a great organization, Year Up. Year Up focuses on closing the opportunity divide, specifically helping young adults who are motivated but lack the resources or connections to access mainstream education and subsequent career paths. The program takes a year, during which students spend six months in classes and then work in a 6-month internship, gaining critical skills, experience, and connections. We donate our time, work with the students in mock interview settings, review and suggest improvements to resumes, and join classrooms as guest speakers. We have hired Year Up students and interns, and their graduates as employees.
I had the opportunity to attend the organization’s fall graduation, and it was an inspiring experience. I couldn’t help thinking about the opportunity divide and what it means to these students. Speaker after speaker told their stories during the ceremony. People who lacked the funds to go to college, people who were at community college but struggled to be successful in the traditional classroom environment. People who felt trapped in dead end, minimum wage jobs, with no path to success.
As someone who works for a company that values community service, it was great to see how our relatively small contributions, and the contributions of many, many more companies, all add up to make a real impact. But as someone who is also working with hiring managers all the time, who is professionally focused on the changing nature of work and how talent management and talent acquisition are going to continue to be challenges for organizations, it was professionally inspiring too. Educational attainment is no longer a static achievement— it is a lifelong endeavor. The changing nature of work will continue to accelerate, and society, educational institutions, employers, and employees all need to continually adapt to match this pace. Lifelong learning is not just for our employees, not just a new branding treatment for our internal leadership and development programs. It is for companies to embrace too.
There are more aspects at play here than I can fully address in a single blog. But as someone who hires and manages large teams and helps clients with talent acquisition, I think it’s incumbent on us to be aware of organizations that are out there evolving and hacking new solutions in the educational process to get workers ready for the types of jobs tomorrow’s economy will require. It is critical that these evolving solutions are inclusive, which I think Year Up addresses head on—I’m sure there are more organizations out there that are doing the same good work. Mid-career retraining is also critical, and certifications are certainly part of the solution, as are any number of online courses (LinkedIn Learning works great for me, as one example). The point is, we are all working toward the same larger goal of a future-ready economy, from all these different angles, whether we know it or not. Diversity, equity, and inclusion, lifelong learning, the opportunity divide, the future of work—progress in any one of these areas helps bring progress to the others, because they are all connected below the surface.
I looked at the faces of all the graduates I could as they walked down the aisle in Benaroya Hall, trying my best to soak it in. Here are young people getting a chance they never thought they would have to move into the mainstream economy. Very likely many of the challenges that we are predicting now are the challenges that they will work to overcome. These challenges can seem weighty at times, pulling you down. But if you want to feel better about the world in general, I highly recommend spending an afternoon with a couple hundred young people who just accomplished something meaningful to their futures, and who are celebrating that accomplishment with their friends and families and mentors. Their pride was the physical manifestation of optimism for the future.
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