Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Community Shares provides way for businesses to support non profits who mentor kids to careers

Use your workplace fund raising campaign to encourage support for your workforce development strategies. Visit Community Shares of Illinois and learn more about workplace giving campaigns.

I attended a workforce development conference at the Federal Reserve Bank yesterday. It was hosted by leaders of the Manufacturing sector, the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, the Swiss-American Business Council and ThinkSwiss, Switzerland's US wide program on education, research and innovation.

The conference's focus was on the challenges that manufacturing companies have in finding skilled workers for well paying jobs and careers. Too many kids are choosing college paths that leave them with a degree and four years of debt when they graduate, but no particular skills or job prospects, while at the same time hundreds of companies can find enough workers to fill open jobs.

Not enough kids think of manufacturing careers as something they want to go into. Too many parents think college is the only path.

I attended this conference a year ago and I wrote about it here and here. If you read many of my past articles you'll see that I believe that volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs like Cabrini Connections can be places where kids meet adults who influence their career aspirations, and where they build skills that make them more desirable for companies.

As one executive said, "It's what is modeled for youth", meaning kids are influenced by the careers modeled by the adults in their lives. True.

A tutor/mentor program is a place in a high poverty area that connects adults from many different careers with youth who have too few positive career influences, and too many negative models.

There are not enough of these programs, and too many struggle to find the dollars needed to operate. This is where the annual workplace fund raising campaigns organized by many companies, the United Way and Community Shares of Illinois come in.

A business can promote workplace giving to its employees, and if they include tutor/mentor programs on the list of choices, they can build a stream of employee dollars to make these programs available. If they also encourage employees to serve on boards, be volunteers, or offer talent to help with technology, marketing, accounting, etc. they can build a connection between their company and hundreds of tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and other cities.

Thus, instead of pointing to the government, or the public schools, to solve a workforce development crisis, companies should think "out of the box" and begin to support direction connections between themselves and youth.

As one leader at the workforce development conference said, "We have to reach out to untapped resources. We can not enter the 21st century with 50% of our students not prepared to be employed."

This means that if manufacturing, health care, hospitality, technology and other industries who face workforce shortages encourage the growth of volunteer-based programs, and share ideas like these posted on the Reference Guide to Manufacturing Careers and Training Resources, they can influence the aspirations and career choices of kids in poor neighborhoods who have great natural abilities, but few coaches and mentors to help them optimize these abilities.

The urgency of the future should be motivation for leaders of the present to adopt these ideas before it is too late.

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