Youth unemployment numbers have been decreasing in the United States over the past few years. With that said, in 2015, youth unemployment still sat at 12.2 percent. But if we dig deeper and begin to think about how we should be preparing our youth to enter the workforce, we realize that many institutions, sectors and employers are all looking at education through different lenses. We must first find a way to agree on the necessary skills, in addition to the types of education that provides youth with these skills in order to solve the unemployment dilemma.
For too many years, education and real work experience have not gone hand in hand. In the video above, global education expert Mona Mourshed says it best, “The world has created a system of sequential and yet seemingly unrelated events where first education happens and then employment happens; and there’s very little interaction between the two.”
There are too many instances in which we place our youth in buckets, confining them to one-dimensional pathways towards careers. Our high schools have been prime examples of this. In many cities we have the “traditional” high schools that most kids attended. On the other side of town are the students we deem not as academically talented, who get funneled towards vocational schools. Instead of blending both types of learning, we separate them, which in turn, separates students and the experiences each group receives.
Yet, I distinctly remember a very small group of students at my high school in New Jersey getting more of a hybrid experience. There was a co-op program where participants would leave at 1:00 pm, an hour before regular dismissal. These students went to work, mostly at banks, where they began to develop communication and customer service skills that would prove to be a huge confidence booster as they ventured off to post-secondary education or the workforce.
We must make sure youth are being educated and learning skills that are transferable and valuable for today’s workforce. To be able to think and generate ideas is great, but employers need to feel that youth actually have the experience to get things done. Educational institutions, employers and workforce developers must form regional coalitions to discuss and agree on the types of education, skills and experience youth need to be prepared to join the workforce upon leaving high school or post-secondary institutions.
We must create a combination of learning and experience to give youth the best opportunities to succeed. If not, we should all chuckle at the irony of our actions. Ultimately, aren’t we going to ask them to multitask for the rest of their lives?