Most business leaders give back. They make financial donations, they volunteer, they serve on boards. I’m no different.
I’ve been on a number of non-profit boards through the years. All the organizations I supported had missions focused on the development of people, on making our talent pipeline more robust. I was on the board of an organization that promoted the hiring of people with disabilities. I was on the board of an organization that provided leadership development programs for young people. I was on the board of the SHRM Foundation.
Currently, I serve as Chair of the Board of CAEL, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. CAEL works at all levels within the higher education, public, and private sectors to make it easier for people to get the education and training they need. It does critical policy and research work to ensure that working adults get access to lifelong learning. An uphill road for sure.
And I’m on the executive committee of the board of JAG, Jobs for America’s Graduates. JAG is a state-based national non-profit organization dedicated to preventing dropouts among young people who are most at-risk. In more than three decades of operation, JAG has delivered consistent, compelling results – helping more than three-quarters of a million young people stay in school through graduation, pursue post-secondary education and secure quality entry-level jobs leading to career advancement opportunities.
JAG has provided infrastructure and support that has enabled more than 800,000 at-risk high school kids to graduate and move on to a job, college or the military. JAG is changing lives pure and simple.
Here are just some of the results from the Class of 2010 – kids who graduated from high school last June:
- The JAG graduation rate was 93%
- Overall job placement rate was 54%
- Full-time jobs rate of those working was 67%
- Full-time placement rate was 88% (percentage of graduates engaged in full-time employment or a combination of employment and post-secondary education)
- Further education rate was 47%
93% graduation rate. That doesn’t exist anywhere. But it does in JAG programs in 32 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Routinely.
This program has worked for more than 30 years. And you know what? 2011 was the toughest funding year in JAG’s history. 2012 will be even more difficult. Deep budget cuts at the state level for education programs were the norm in 2011 and will be more draconian in 2012. Sharp budget cuts of federal funding to Governors adversely impacted 9 of 32 states in 2011 with more to come in 2012.
I find this astonishing. The education of our nation’s youth is one of the biggest issues we face. If we’re to be competitive in the global economy we must focus on the development of the talent we have. And it all starts in our elementary, junior and high schools.
Last week I attended the yearly JAG Leadership Awards luncheon in Washington, D.C. More than 450 JAG high school students raised money to travel to D.C. to attend this event and the follow-on conference. Some of these kids flew on a plane for the first time last week. Many of them wore a suit for the first time. Most of them had never been to our nation’s capital.
These kids are the future of the United States. And most of these kids would have been dropped by our education system had it not been for JAG. This was made very clear to me at the end of the lunch.
I was caught in the crush of students headed to the escalators. A young man looked at my badge and said, “You look important.” I responded, “No more important than you!” He then asked if I knew Ken Smith, the President and founder of JAG. I told him I did indeed know Ken. The young man then held out his hand to me and introduced himself: “I’m Ken Watkins from South Carolina. Would you introduce me to Ken Smith?”
We reversed our direction and headed to the front of the banquet room. When we got there, I introduced the two Kens. The student from South Carolina looked at the President of JAG and said, “I asked to meet you because I wanted to thank you for saving my life.”
It was a quick conversation and the elder Ken quite naturally told the young man that it was really his own commitment and perseverance that saved his life – and to keep up the hard work. I think the younger Ken understood, but it was clearly important to him to thank the man who founded the organization that provided his safety net. It was a very moving moment – for all of us.
So I think of the other 799,999 students like young Ken from South Carolina who, over 30+ years, have responded to the opportunities created by JAG and who have entered our economy as educated, hard working citizens and contributed to the economic success of the United States and their families.
It’s important to know that in these times of political dysfunction and lack of political leadership ,that there are people and organizations who keep the prize in mind. Who keep moving us forward. Organizations like JAG and CAEL.
So the next time a non-profit asks you to get involved, to make a donation or to serve on their board, please seriously consider their request. We’re adding to the talent pipeline. We’re educating our nation. We’re saving lives. And if you have jobs that young people could perform, find the JAG organization in your state and interview some JAG kids. You’ll probably hire them all!