By Teachers, For Teachers
July 06--Here is a question with a depressing answer: If suddenly there were plenty of jobs available, how many high school graduates from poor backgrounds would have the basic qualifications to fill them?
Unfortunately, there are too many young adults who are lacking not only the vocational skills needed to get a job, but also lacking critical "soft skills," such as "personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and relationships with other people."
In a column this week on these pages, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera noted that these important skills are taken for granted by upper-middle-class workers.
Like it or not, there are many young adults who do not possess the necessary social skills and habits to succeed in many of the jobs that are available in our changing economy.
That's where a program called Year Up steps in.
Founded in Boston in 2000, the nonprofit says its mission is to "close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. We achieve this mission through a high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships and college credits. Our holistic approach focuses on students' professional and personal development to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency."
While some jobs-oriented programs focus on technical skills, Year Up adds a focus on personal accountability, honesty and respect for others.
The program has a successful track record but is reaching only a small number of young adults among the millions who need more than just a marketable skill.
Gerald Chertavian, the group's leader, now wants to get the program into a place where it can reach many of those millions -- our nation's community colleges.
There are thousands of so-called mid-level jobs in our nation. These jobs do not require a four-year degree but they do require more than a high school education. And they require a specific set of social and personal skills.
In his column for The New York Times, Nocera said "almost universally, companies complain that they can't find enough workers to fill those jobs."
Community colleges are doing a tremendous job of helping train students for those jobs, but there are many young adults, who, for whatever reason, do not have that critical set of soft skills needed to take advantage of those opportunities.
The stark reality is that what many people know as normal habits of hard work, punctuality and the ability to function in a workplace are foreign to teenagers and young adults who may have grown up in chaotic homes where those traits were rare.
While Year Up's focus is on urban areas, young adults from rural areas face the same problems.
Such programs cannot help everyone. At the end of the day it's going to be up to the individual to make leading a productive life a priority. But with unemployment steep among the young and uneducated, it would make sense for all community colleges to provide such programs.
Critics will say that it's not the job of public community colleges to teach behavior, but at this point, what are the options?
If something is not done to get more young adults into productive and stable lifestyles, we risk losing a generation.
And don't think for a minute the fallout will not be felt by all of us.
Image source: WFIE-TV