Monday, April 15, 2013

Influencing Career Aspirations - Role of Business & Mentoring

In this UK report titled "Nothing in Common: The Career Aspirations of Young Britons Mapped against Projected Labor Market Demands (2010-2020)" the authors show that career aspirations for many youth do not align with available jobs and call for greater business involvement with education efforts to change this.

This lack of alignment is probably as common in the US as in the UK. So what are businesses and mentoring programs doing about it? Since I've led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program for over 35 years I've come to believe that having mentors from different business and professional backgrounds involved with young people can expand the types of career choices youth might aspire to. The image below shows young people in the Cabrini Connections program engaged in performance activities. One of those young people, Tramaine Montel Ford, is now a professional actor in New York, who says his "acting bug" started with the video program at Cabrini Connections.

At Cabrini Connections every teen was in a one-on-one match with volunteers from different business backgrounds. However, since this was a site-based program, other volunteers were also able to participate, organizing small learning groups (we called clubs) focused on technology, art, video, writing, dance, etc. These never had funding for consistent staff support so the level of activity from year to year was inconsistent, but they all provided a range of extra learning opportunities for the teens who participated.

In the mid 1990s I tried to create a new term for this type of mentoring program. I called it "Total Quality Mentoring (TQM)" borrowing from the business concept of Total Quality Management. I was describing a type of mentoring that had many different influences, and was constantly looking for ways to improve it's impact by engaging the talents of volunteers and youth in all phases of program operations. This graphic was created to demonstrate this program model.

The center of the "wheel" is a youth, with the spokes representing the different types of influences that a program might expose the youth to via the volunteers who participate and the activities the program offers. This graphic also is the model for a "program" which recruits volunteers from different work backgrounds and recruits youth in elementary or middle school and works to keep them involved all through high school. As the Internet became available, this vision extends to building a life-long network connecting youth and volunteers with each other in a virtual support system.

Each spoke of the wheel has an arrow going both ways. Every time a volunteer interacts with a youth in a weekly tutor/mentor session he/she is learning something about that child and the community he/she lives in. Every week that volunteer informally shares what is learned with his friends, family and co-workers. The longer the volunteer stays involved, the greater his empathy/understanding grows and the more he is willing to do to support the youth, and often the program. This animation illustrates this service-learning loop. If volunteers are well-supported by consistent staff involvement, they will stay involved longer and many will begin to bring other volunteers, other learning opportunities, and even financial support, to the organization.

Every spoke in the chart also points to a specific industry cluster that has different workforce readiness needs. In this graphic I emphasize the 12 years it takes to go from first grade through high school and the ways business could support this journey with volunteer involvement, technology, ideas and on-going funding. If companies were to look at this strategically, they could be supporting volunteers with ideas they could take to their tutor/mentor sessions. Thus, volunteers from engineering and manufacturing could be using clay and animation to teach thinking skills to elementary school kids, that might motivate aspirations for these types of careers. They also might organize field trips and job shadowing during middle school years. In addition they might offer part time jobs and internships during high school years, and even provide scholarship money and summer jobs during college years.

If political leaders recognized the importance of this strategy they could be recruiting and recognizing companies from every industry who were adopting this strategy. The result would be that volunteers and financial support would be coming to each program in the city from many different sectors, creating a broader base of funding needed to ensure that each program had talented staff that would stay with these programs longer, and that youth were surrounded with volunteers modeling many different career aspirations, not just one or two.

If you are a volunteer, alumni, student, parent, donor, etc. you can share this idea with people in your network who are involved in different industries, or who are in media, entertainment and/or politics and who might provide encouragement for companies to adopt the Total Quality Mentoring model.

If you're being asked to contribute $50 million for a new anti-violence strategy wouldn't it make sense if this was also a workforce development strategy?

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