We would all like to believe we control our own destiny. But experiences teach us we are sometimes shaped by forces outside ourselves: the opportunities we encounter, the people we meet, those who mentor us, and the communities that surround us.
This is not to say that our paths are prescribed—but that we need the skills to recognize and seize opportunities that come our way.
As we often discuss, young people who are not working or in school lack the skills needed to support themselves and their families and to contribute to the growth of our communities and economy. This is taking a toll on the nation: taxpayers shouldered $93 million in 2011 alone to cover direct and indirect costs supporting the one in six youth ages 16-24 (6.7 million) who are disconnected from learning and jobs.
As the White House Council for Community Solutions has learned through research and listening sessions, these young adults need access to education and training now – and this issue will only become more urgent. Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce predicts a skills gap of approximately three million post-secondary degrees and 4.7 million post-secondary certificates by 2018.
As the work of the Council enters its final phase, members have voted on and finalized recommendations for the President that present a vision for how the nation can address this looming crisis head on and put every young person on the path to economic opportunity.
Connecting Youth With Employment and Training Opportunities
After almost 100 days of listening and collaboration, the Council is ready to fulfill President Obama's request for informed recommendations around how the nation can leverage the power of cross-sector collaboration to tackle critical national challenges and expand civic engagement.
Opportunity youth recognize that their lack of work experience and education make it difficult to find jobs, yet barriers call for more comprehensive and flexible supports. The Opportunity Road report from America's Promise Alliance—for example—found that 32 percent of Opportunity Youth reported that they did not know how to prepare a resume or interview.
The Council has learned a lot about what's needed to help disconnected youth break through these barriers and find opportunities for employment and skills training—which in turn helps the American workforce gain more qualified candidates, increase leadership skills, and leverage the potential of the next generation.
What can you do?
All sectors must increase opportunities for youth. One way to do this is already underway through the Summer Jobs+ initiative. We must continue to expand employment, training, mentoring, and internships year-round in all sectors. The Council has created a toolkit for businesses and has been involved in community conversations that allow for businesses to learn best practices and feel supported in implementing these programs.
Quality and relevant educational opportunities must be provided. We must more quickly identify youth who have a high risk of disconnecting so that we don't lose their potential. City Year is working to do just that. Their volunteers received skills training and then give back to the community, helping the next generation be more prepared for school and work.
Increase service opportunities available to opportunity youth. NCCC is a great example of how we can engage disconnected youth in training while filling community needs. The new NCCC/FEMA initiative will create even more service opportunities.
Mentors, mentors, mentors. In looking at community collaborative models and hearing from disconnected youth themselves, the presence of mentors makes a huge difference. First Lady Michelle Obama has recognized this through her Corporate Mentoring Challenge.
We need robust on-ramps to employment. Each young person has a unique path and story, and each needs a way to get to a better place – whether it's through education, community service, job training, or another path.