I’ve long been concerned about the state of the talent pipeline in the United States. That’s why I serve on the boards of CAEL (the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates). These two non-profit organizations work on opposite ends of the education pipeline. CAEL works to make lifelong learning available and affordable to working adults of all economic backgrounds. JAG works to eradicate high school dropouts. Both organizations are doing amazing work. Visit CAEL’s website here and JAG’s website here.
I’ve been very concerned (well, worried is a more accurate description) about the employability of young people entering the economy for the first time. The data stream is robust in describing most high school and many college graduates as lacking in essential workplace skills. Skills like reading and writing English, math, collaboration and teamwork, and dealing appropriately with the public appear to be lacking in these young people. Additionally, real world abilities to take direction from a boss, arrive to work on time and carry out job assignments are in question.
I was believing the data that said the U.S. was doomed.
And then I was asked to speak at a career management conference last week for 60 college students at my alma mater, Principia College in the Midwest. Initially I was to give a presentation titled Job Search and Social Networking. I did that. But because another conference presenter was unable to attend at the last minute, I also did sessions on Resumes and Cover Letters and Interviewing.
While these 60 liberal arts college juniors and seniors may not be representative of the more than 1.6 million seniors who will graduate in 2011, they give me hope. Lots and lots of hope!
These kids were articulate and curious. They asked great questions. They spoke well, they wrote well (we had a resume writing lab from 7:30-11:30 one evening!), they were confident and they worked hard. They were smart, charming, funny, engaged and had a strong, positive sense of their future.
More impressive to me was their understanding that the beginnings of their professional lives weren’t going to be a cake walk. They had a real sense of the reality of the job market as well as the requirements of building a career through hard work. These young people are going to show up for work and actually work! I would be proud to have any of these young men and women on my staff.
I share this because my experience with these young people belie all the data that we’re seeing. It’s easy for business leaders to get discouraged by focusing on the surveys that point out the shortcomings of those entering the workforce for the first time. It’s easy for us to throw up our hands and start to send jobs to other regions of the world because we believe that their talent pipelines are more robust.
But I encourage you to take another look. And I really encourage you to spend some time with the career offices at colleges and universities near you. Lend your real world expertise to these students when they need it most: as they’re planning their first career steps. Help them make wise choices. Support their understanding about how the world of work really works.
You’ll make a huge impact and I think you’ll sleep a little easier. And who knows, you might just find some talent that will fit your organization!