by Don Iannone, Publisher, ED Futures (2005 Issue)
THIS IS A PLEA FOR GREATER COOPERATION, coordination, integration, long term thinking, and sustained investment by all public and private sector organizations focused on large and growing challenge of helping youth and young adults succeed in our ever-changing economy. More attention must be given to preparing our Nation's youth and young adults for future work and career success in the future economy.
We should be much more concerned about the ability of our 16 to 30-year olds' ability to succeed in the labor market. Nearly 55 million, or 19.5%, of the Nation's 282 million people fall into this group. Young people across this age spectrum are struggling to prepare themselves for quality jobs and careers. Minority and disadvantaged youth and young people face the greatest challenge in this regard.
Our future approach to this issue must embody a more strategic coupling of the full range of available educational, skill training, career counseling, job placement, young talent retention and attraction, and ongoing support initiatives aimed at enabling young people to succeed in a technologically-driven global economy.
While considerable effort is now being made by government, business, and education to address various aspects of this critical issue, these efforts remain in most cases piecemeal, and they tend to fall short in fully linking with local economic development priorities and processes. Nothing short of a "full court press" is needed in the future to increase our impact on this issue. We need a comprehensive and integrated focus on the role of young people in our changing economy.
Globalization, technological innovation, continued productivity growth, increased global competition for businesses, work, and jobs are not going to go away in the future. These issues will be even more important in the future. Workforce developers, educators, employers, and economic developers must accept that the only way they can advance young people in the future is to work together in taking aim at these major drivers of economic change.
Step One: A New Vision of Youth and Young Adult Possibilities
Young people are our future. They will make the fundamental difference whether America's state and local economies succeed or fail in achieving greater economic development in the future. Workforce development organizations, economic development groups, and educational institutions nationwide have varying levels of awareness of this reality. Some fully recognize this issue's strategic importance to economic development, while others give relatively little attention to the issue. Even those working hard on the issue need to approach the youth and young adult challenge in a more integrated way that stretches across educational systems, labor markets, industries, and local economies. This requires a new vision of what all of us are trying to achieve. That is the central point of this article.
We have plenty of "programs" to provide help. Some would argue that increased funding and better public-private sector leadership are needed to increase program success. This is an accurate assessment in some cases, but more resources alone is not the answer. A stronger guiding vision is needed of young people, their hopes, aspirations, abilities, and how they can be meaningfully employed to build a stronger American economy.
Youth employment programs, reinvigorated School-to-Work programs, apprenticeship, mentoring, revamped job placement, and various youth-oriented career initiatives are receiving more attention by state and local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) and other workforce and education service providers, and private employers. Yet, these efforts are producing only meager results in many cases. As a chief funding agency for many of these initiatives, the U.S. Department of Labor is urging local and state agencies to collaborate and work on a concerted basis at increasing the performance of various existing programs and initiatives in serving youth and young people.
While efforts to better prepare young people for future jobs and careers have been increased, most experts agree that we have a long way to go. This recognition has spurred the U.S. Department of Labor, states, and the private sector to do more. In recognition of the need for better coordination and integration of efforts, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has created its Office of Youth Services (OYS) within its Employment and Training Administration. OYS will help ensure that the Labor Department's many solutions at youth and young people will be better coordinated in the future.
Step Two: Strengthen Educational Foundations
Innovative initiatives to strengthen young people's early educational foundations have been set in motion by both public and private sector groups. These are important because without these basic foundations children, teenagers, and young adults are unable to learn and acquire the specific workplace skills required by employers. Lacking these foundations, young people are put at a lifelong disadvantage in educating themselves and building a successful career.
The Committee for Economic Development (CED), a private sector policy research and advocacy group in New York City, has identified pre-school education as one of its top priorities to stimulate economic growth in America in the future. Since its 2002 early education report, Preschool for All: Investing in a Productive and Just Society, CED has been engaged in an aggressive national campaign to build the momentum surrounding investment in early education.
The CED report calls for free, high quality preschool education for all children age 3 and over who have not yet entered kindergarten. There is a growing recognition by educators, workforce developers, and employers that the stage for successful lifelong learning must be set very early. Business executives are giving much more attention to strengthening school systems in many cities across America. A recent report by the CEOs for Cities organization draws attention to successful efforts to reinvent existing public education systems and to create new performance-based charter schools. Success examples are cited in Providence, RI, Kansas City, MO, Milwaukee, WI, and many other cities. In all of these cases, employers are playing more active roles in bridging the gap between education and the workplace. Providing new and better jobs for youth and young adults is a growing part of this new private sector commitment.
Step Three: Build Workforce-Education-Economic Development Partnerships
An increasing number of economic development organizations (EDOs) serving urban and rural local economies are launching new programs to address youth employment issues and new initiatives to stem the loss of educated young people and strengthen their ability to attract new young talent in the future.
For one, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in Pittsburgh, PA has stepped up its efforts to retain and attract young talent to the region. This quote from the Conference's Task Force on Young People sizes us the situation quite well: "As we struggle to understand the transformations that must occur to make our region attractive to young talent, we must let go of many outdated traditions and begin to forge a new set of priorities - among them is the ability for individuals to engage and connect into the fabric of a community."
The "Brain Drain" issue has received great attention by communities, regions, and states across the U.S. A recent Brookings Institute study finds that young and educated workers represent a larger part of the workforce in metropolitan areas with high populations, strong arts scenes, significant international immigration, and large numbers of high-tech jobs.4 Economic developers, workforce developers, educators, and employers must work together in re-shaping American communities in both urban and rural areas to become more attractive places for young people. This is a must if these communities are going to hold onto their increasing scarce talent to grow their future economy.
Many geographic areas across America are finding exactly what a group of Colgate University researchers discovered in a recent Upstate New York study. While the upstate economy is fairly strong, it is not generating the types of jobs that will stop the flow of ambitious young people out of the region. This conclusion stems from a survey of 1,200 upstate residents who participated in the most recent Colgate University/Zogby International Upstate NY Poll.5 Providing these jobs is crucial to youth retention and attraction, especially good-paying and career-oriented jobs.
A recent survey of Northeast Ohio residents by the Gallup Organization found that only 14% of 18-24-year olds and only 18% of 25-24-year olds were very satisfied with the region as a place to live work, and play.6 Much like the Upstate New York situation, Northeast Ohio is struggling to provide enough good-paying and career-oriented jobs for youth and young adults. More attention is being given to this issue by the area's business and economic development groups, including the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Akron Area Chamber of Commerce, and the new 13-county regional development group Team Northeast Ohio.
Local communities can innovate with better coordinated and more effective initiatives aimed at youth and young people. Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a promising practice approach that others might consider following in the future. In the early 1990s, the Office of Workforce Development (OWD), a municipal agency devoted to expanding career and educational opportunities for Cambridge residents, was confronted with a disjointed system of education and job training for young people.
While rich in educational, industrial and youth development resources, the Cambridge community had not been successful in connecting the worlds of school and work. With the goal of offering all Cambridge students a "life-long learning guarantee," OWD worked with the schools and partner agencies to shape the way students work and learn, to increase their access to higher education, and to transform the workforce to include diverse and well-trained employees.
A recent DOL report urges workforce development organizations to work more closely with their education and economic development partners to increase youth employment results in four areas:
1) advance results from "second chance" alternative education programs;
2) help youth find jobs in "high-growth" industries and occupations;
3) increase attention to the neediest youth; and
4) increase the performance of the full range of workforce investment programs and initiatives focused on youth. Results of DOL-sponsored youth programs are improving in many program areas, according to the most recent DOL Workforce System Results Report.10 DOL officials fully recognize that the job of preparing youth and young people for work is far from complete.
One of the most difficult challenges related to youth and young adults is the reintroduction of former felons into the workplace. The DOL's Reentry Initiative addresses both juvenile and adult populations, ages 14-35, of serious, high-risk offenders. It provides funding to state and local governmental agencies to develop, implement, enhance, and evaluate reentry strategies that will ensure the safety of the community and the reduction of serious, violent crime. More communities and states need to take advantage of this funding opportunity in the future.
Step Four: Investing in and Competing for Young Talent
The message is clear. We must invest in our youth and young adults to prepare them for jobs and careers in the global economy. We must also help communities compete for young talent, which will either make or break these places' ability to achieve greater economic development in the future.
Demographics have a great influence on the challenges we face related to youth and young people. The Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute's eye-opening report, Beyond Workforce 2020, points to the twin problems of coping with our escalating aging workforce problem and the need to strengthen efforts to retain and recruit talented young people in our communities.
The Hudson report predicts that competition for our best and brightest young people will become increasingly global, especially in key science, engineering, and business fields. At one time, large numbers of international students educated at American colleges and universities wanted to remain in the U.S. after completing their education because their career prospects were much brighter. Now, China, India, and other developing nations are stepping up efforts to bring home their talented young people being educated at American and European colleges and universities. These nations have become increasingly aware of the pivotal role of human talent in sparking future economic development in advanced technology industries.
The United Nations' 2001 Global Aging Initiative projects that between 2000 and 2030 the 0-25-year old age group will grow by only 9.7% in the United States, while the 65+ year old age group will increase by a phenomenal 108%. Meanwhile, the global human resource consulting firm, Watson Wyatt Worldwide estimates that total labor supply in the United States will grow by only 0.97% per year during the 2000-2010 period, compared to a 1.74% average annual growth rate in the 1960s and a 2.60% average annual growth rate in the 1970s. These trends underscore the need for local and state workforce and economic development organizations to do even more to work with young people on educational attainment, career awareness and readiness, and related issues.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This article suggests some directions that might be considered by public and private sector leaders in the future. One of these is the critical need for educators, workforce developers, economic developers, and employers to work together on comprehensive local and state strategies to address these issues in the future. Effective solutions hinge upon coordinated action by these various groups. Without greater collaboration, the agenda described below can never be accomplished.
To equip youth and young people to more fully participate in the future technologically-driven global economy, workforce developers, educators, economic developers, and employers should give greater attention to the following action agenda:
1. Integrated Vision: It all starts with a better way to look at the situation. An integrated vision that extends from early childhood education through young adulthood is needed. We must see the issue as ensuring an adequate supply of educated, trained, and talented young people capable of creating the economy of the future. Within this vision, we must create greater hope for young people that they can succeed in the global economy.
2. New Investment Strategies: Financial resources by the public and private sectors should give greater attention to creating comprehensive lifelong learning and career development pathways that extend over the various phases of youth, young adult and beyond. This means we need to change the way the Federal Government, the states, philanthropic organizations, and private businesses can spend (invest) these financial resources in making our youth and young adults more competitive for the global economy. And yes, the starting point for all these stakeholder groups is to more fully use the flexibility they already possess in how they make investments.
3. Early Awareness: Educational research suggests that children acquire their basic facilities for learning very early in life. For most, these basic abilities either are or are not acquired by the time children complete the third grade. This suggests that we need to start at a much earlier age in educating children about the world of work, career choice, and related issues. We need to creatively work at building this awareness by children, parents, and teachers.
4. Educational Foundations: Without adequate educational preparation in reading, writing, math, and science, young people suffer nearly insurmountable disadvantages in preparing themselves for jobs and careers later in life. These problems are even more pronounced among disadvantaged and minority youth. Much greater attention must be given to improved educational achievement in these critical subject areas. At the same time, we must prepare our youth with the "soft skills" (communications, teamwork, etc.) to work in dynamic organizations that require people to relate with one another in a competent fashion.
5. Viable Career Pathways: For many young people, their understanding of career pathways and how to access these pathways is very low. In today's rapidly changing economic world, many of these pathways are more uncertain, complicating children and young adults' ability to understand the steps they need to take to succeed in the many fields. Technology, new global business strategies, and many other factors add to this uncertainty. Greater effort should be made to ensure that youth and young adults fully understand the factors that will ultimately influence their success. We must also prepare them with the skills to navigate these pathways successfully.
6. Employment Generation: Employment generation is changing worldwide. Local and national labor markets have given way to a complex new global workforce and international division of labor, which have radically changed the number and type of jobs created in the United States and other nations. The increased use of work outsourcing by U.S. manufacturing and service businesses to India, China, and other developing countries has changed the mix of employment opportunities open to all U.S. workers, including new young entrants into the labor market. We must provide the incentives needed to motivate employers to provide more high quality jobs here in American communities, recognizing that all jobs in the future must be globally-linked if they are to survive. We must help both employers and their employees accomplish these global linkages without jeopardizing good jobs in American communities.
Armed with these strategies, we stand a greater chance of success in preparing our youth and young people for the economy of the future. Without them, we are likely to stumble
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article was previously published in the Winter 2004 Issue of Initiatives, a publication of the United States Department of Labor's Employment & Training Administration.