Helping urban youth thrive

Businesses demonstrate a plethora of possibilities for young people in urban environments.

When Tabatha Turman reflected upon her experiences growing up in an urban environment, she connected the dots that led to her success as an entrepreneur. “I never expected I’d become CEO of a multi-million dollar company,” she says. “Such a dream seemed entirely too far out of my reach, yet here I am.” The factors that influenced her along the way were numerous. As she explains, “Whether it was my mother, the Junior Achievement organization in St. Louis, the military or higher education, I had experiences, relationships and opportunities that empowered me to be who I became.”

There’s no magic formula that works equally well for all young people, but specific strategies seem to have consistently positive outcomes. Research such as the landmark Tufts University “4-H Study of Positive Youth Development” has demonstrated that young people thrive when they are supported by a mix of resources within their family, school and community. Key elements in the community are businesses who have a vested interest in cultivating a strong local workforce. Employers may complain that there is a lack of qualified candidates for job openings, while young people in the community lack exposure to the kinds of careers that they might pursue.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, higher levels of education generally correlate with lower rates of unemployment across all demographics. The value of higher education may not be clear to a middle or high school student who is unaware of the career options for which they could qualify via a post-secondary degree or certification. Bridging that gap will lead to more opportunities for young people and a stronger workforce for employers.

The first step is as simple as hosting a career event at your place of business. Show high school students the recruiting video that you usually take to university career fairs. Let them see the coolest technology you have, and talk to employees about why they enjoy their jobs. Give them some basic information about salary ranges and benefits. Draw a visual representation of the educational path required to qualify for an entry-level position and the opportunities for advancement within the company.

If possible, find a way to include some hands-on, interactive elements in the event. It might be a scavenger hunt to discover some key facts about the company, a simulated experience in quality control or a brainstorming session with your marketing department. Your local Michigan State University Extension county office has 4-H Youth Development professionals who can help you create an activity based upon the principles of experiential learning.

Looking for more ways to help? Check out Turman’s article in Entrepreneur Magazine, “5 Ways Businesses Can Help Urban Youth Succeed in the Future Workforce.” Young people are your future talent pool, and a small investment today may result in extraordinary dividends. As Turman points out, “Today’s urban youth need empowerment to succeed in the workforce and you can give it to them.”

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