Can you remember what it was like to earn your first official paycheck?
Think back to your first job. You learned different things and were exposed to different people. You gained a new awareness for belonging and independence. But, most of all, you felt a sense of pride in your accomplishment and your paycheck.
Over the last decade, American youth have struggled to find jobs that provide the opportunity for them to learn valuable skills along with a work ethic. According to the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, 48.8% of youth between the ages of 16-24 were employed last July (the month when youth employment usually peaks). That number has dropped from 59.2% five years ago and 63.3% ten years ago. Numbers for this year should be released later this month.
As part of a national call-to-action, businesses, non-profits and government were asked to hire youth, providing corporate mentorship experiences, internships and other opportunities that connect young people to jobs. Demonstrating how an investment of $500, $750 or $1,000 at the current minimum wage of $7.25 would translate into hours of work over a 2 or 3 month period during the summer, the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board (NWIWB) Youth Employment Council delivered the message locally.
“Our goal was to get the word out and encourage businesses to give young people their first work experience,” Keith Kirkpatrick, CEO of KPM Group, Inc., executive director of Leadership Northwest Indiana and chairman of the NWIWB Youth Employment Council, said of the Summer Jobs NWI program which was started this spring in an effort to create pathways to employment and self-sufficiency for our young people that contribute to building a stronger, smarter, work-ready workforce and community. “These are the workers of the future, and they need to start somewhere.”
There’s no doubt that the need for work experience or work-related learning opportunities for youth and young adults is greater than ever before. Career pathways are less straight-forward and more people are now holding a number of different jobs in their lifetime.
High school diplomas and basic reading, writing and mathematics are no longer enough when young people look for jobs and careers in today’s workforce.
The types of skills required to achieve success and function effectively in the workforce now include communication, problem-solving, risk-taking and teamwork as well as the ability to acquire and use information to get the job done, use appropriate technology, demonstrate responsible behavior at work and learn new skills in order to meet new challenges.
National statistics point to need for acceleration of degree attainment. College degrees and other post-secondary credentials matter now more than ever. Since the economy of northwest Indiana is based in manufacturing, health care/biomedical, professional services, financial services, and the growing and changing transportation and distribution sector, our region has a particular need for and an increased focus on science, math, engineering and technology skills, according to research by the Regional Education/Employer Alliance for Developing Youth (READY) nwi initiative.
Formed in 2009, READY brings educators, employers and community leaders in economic and workforce development together in an effort to align the educational levels of the population with the educational needs of employers.
“One of the most important things is for our young people to have a way to fulfill their dreams of getting a great job here in northwest Indiana,” Don Babcock, NIPSCO’s director of economic development and member of the READY governing board, said. “There are already a number of wonderful opportunities here that most people are not aware of, with the promise of even more down the road. We want to young people to aspire to these opportunities.”
According to projections by the Center of Workforce Innovations (CWI), northwest Indiana will need two-and-a-half times the number of young people with post high school education in the workforce very soon. That education includes an array of degrees, certificates and credentials that are tied to the skills employers require.
“Tremendous progress has been made when it comes to identifying different ways to help students move more quickly toward their goals,” Mark Maassel, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum and member of the READY governing board, said. “When it comes to educational resources and job opportunities, the focus is on helping students be the great employees we need in this region. The reality is that a high school education is not enough, and you need to prepare yourself to move on to the next level of academic attainment in order to succeed in a specific position.”
Currently, only about 26% of the people in northwest Indiana’s workforce have post high school education. By 2025, CWI anticipates that 80% of the jobs here will require it. This translates into making certain approximately 200,000 northwest Indiana residents acquire or have some post high school education credential by 2025. These credentials include a college degree, industry certification or apprenticeship.
One way READY is already making an impact is through school assessments that measure both academic proficiency and personal interest in order to match a student’s strengths with a selection of career paths, the earlier the better.
“I had the great opportunity to serve as the AmeriCorps Career Advisor at Calumet High School for the 2010-2011 school year,” Michael Baird, retired northwest regional president of Harris Bank, a CWI board member and member of the READY governing board, said. “I started to recognize a need for better assessments in my year at Calumet. It’s important for students to see all of the different career options out there, not just narrowly defined careers like doctors and nurses in medicine, so they can have a better appreciation of the opportunities out there. Then they can match their career goals with the educational background and training needed for a future that excites and fulfills them.”
Now in its third year, the AmeriCorps Career Advisor Initiative is a seven-county initiative made possible through the partnership and facilitation by CWI with the United Way. Along with Calumet, high school students at Highland, Merrillville and Hanover Central in Lake County as well as Portage in Porter County, South Central in Union Mills County, Westville in LaPorte County and Knox in Starke County has access to Career Advisors who can assist them in achieving their career goals from apprenticeships and training programs to post-secondary education, military careers or school-to-work options.