Challenges of Development

PBS is airing a program called Edge of E18teen that examines the lives of several 17-year-olds and the challenges they face as they mature.

Image of young businessman opening door with lights

Image of young businessman opening door with lights

Their circumstances are diverse. One young man was sent to military school. His grades were slipping; he needed more discipline; he needed to learn about taking on responsibility.

A young Cambodian girl is living with her father. Her mother left the family. There was much divisiveness in the home. The parents had vicious arguments. The mother was having an affair. The girl punishes her mother by not responding to her text messages and refusing to communicate or see her at all.

Another boy is about to graduate from high school. He is a devoted Christian and wants to address the student body at his graduation by telling them about Christ. When that idea is rejected by his school, he proposes to have a graduation party for his entire class (400+) and use that as a platform for telling them about Christ. His mother rejects the idea.

All but one say their relationship with their parents is difficult, that they don’t understand.

Our youth face so many challenges as they mature. Are we doing enough to prepare them for what Life and our societies have in store for them? Preparation also comes down to doing things that involve some degree of training and explanation. Small dollops of autonomy grow into taking on full responsibility for various projects, accompanied by nurturing support to catch them if they fall.

But with parents being challenged with low wages that sometimes require two or more jobs to support a family, and constantly increasing costs of living, we are starting to lose the time necessary to provide the building of responsible, independent lives that are ready for adult life challenges at the age of 21 or 18.

How do we successfully prioritize the overwhelming amounts of responsibilities that face us as we create a worthwhile future for our offspring, our progeny, our future?

How can we leap to the heights of doing the things that are necessary to do even a merely adequate job of nurturing the future generations when there are still so many things we ourselves still need to learn and master. There are so many times when I feel inadequate and regret the lessons that are missing.

It would be so good to have the right answers – or at least clues to which are the more important for the path we endeavor to follow or make. Perhaps that is the clue. Determine what the path is: one to be followed or one to be made. The next step is to find the right mentors to offer guidance while we learn by trying and failing and then trying again in order to succeed while the mentor explains what went wrong if we do not examine the broken pieces on the floor to see where the weak spot was.

And therein may lie some of the answers to nurturing our youth.

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Fourth Thursday in April

When does succession planning start? Some have posited that it starts when the CEO (or the executive who will soon be leaving) identifies several in their midst who appear to be likely candidates to step into the their shoes. The candidates are sort of taken under wing and given projects that will amplify the native skills and talents while also prodding creative thinking and strategy issues. The mentor will interlace these with conversations about not only theory but also practice. And guidance will come through being engaged in the projects together so that the progress, strategies, and rationale can be discussed.

Similar to Youth Development

Succession planning in the business world is not that different from teaching youth. The difference is that in the business world, we’re working on fine tuning competencies and empowering to lead in a responsible way. With youth, we’re developing core competencies and critical thinking skills. We’re also leading them to their introduction to the world of work, wherever that may be for their talents, as well as how to be responsible and mature.

Even when they’re in school, the purposes of the classes such as getting to class on time, turning in assignments, reciting before the class, and so on, all relate to being in the real work world. They are part and parcel of training to be a responsible, intelligent part of the workforce. Unfortunately, school is a bit theoretical for the youth. It’s difficult for the various exercises to be palpable. The age old complaint about “Why do I need to learn this? It doesn’t have anything to do with [insert name of profession or discipline here].” Ah, my petulant pupil, it has everything to do with it, and more.

Putting Context to Theory

I’ve talked about it many times over the years. There’s the fourth Thursday of April each year when Ms. Foundation promotes its Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. It’s a day when the practice and the theory become actualized at a real workplace. The youth have an opportunity to be in the real workplace and be involved in part of the processes that create the enterprise. It’s a time when many of the pieces can fall together and form a better picture of what it’s all about; youth have a chance to realize the answers to their strident grousings about the relevance of what they’re doing.

But the day needs to be kept relevant. This isn’t a day for sending the youth to the copying center or collating and stapling mountains of forms. For the day to be meaningful, this should be a day when the youth shadows a particular role model or mentor who includes the youth in the various aspects of doing that job. For example, there should be opportunity for understanding the reports that need to be prepared. In fact, it would be a good idea to have them be involved in the preparation of a report, along with the research to create it, and a conversation about what the report should deliver to its audience.

Follow Up and Follow Through

The young interns spend only one day in the real workplace on this Thursday in April. Many think of it as a day for the kids and then back to the usual. Hold up. Anything done deserves to be done well. Anything done well deserves recognition in some way.

The youth were given permission to miss a school day of attending classes in order to have their one day in the life of an intern. When they return to school, their teachers will want to have an oral report on what transpired, especially as it relates to their middle or high school subject, so that there’s accountability. But the oral report can also serve to make this occasion viral and inspire other students to vie for the opportunity to spend a day in the real work world in the following year.

Meanwhile, it would be wise for the oral report to be reduced to writing and shared with the coordinator of the TODSTWD event. The report will serve as feedback on what was learned and what revelations occurred during the one-day internship. The coordinator can then share the information with the mentor so they have some appreciation of how effective they were as a role model.

What Industries, What Businesses

Even though this article is written with deference to a business that sits in some office building, the dynamics of the day and the purpose of it is not constrained to just an office setting. There are all types of businesses. We would do well to let ourselves as well as our youth begin to see the world as more than just a brick and mortar site.

There are alternative careers in forestry, many aspects of beauty and fashion, services from keysmithing to plumbers. Many young people think of the local fast food franchise as their “just out of high school” option. But what would it take to run the independent store that competes with that franchise? Perhaps a mortician or a minister could get involved in making the day meaningful for a new generation of service providers. As stressful as it is, getting to know the other side of social work is also an option that should be available to the youth so that they gain a better understanding of the governmental side of the picture.

What Outcome?

But even more can come out of the day’s events and follow-up reports. How well did these sycophants perform? Maybe they’re worth having return for more than one day. Perhaps they could be interns during the summer months or be involved in some type of work-study program designed to train them for a more involvement in the business. And that just may lead to developing your company’s pipeline of qualified candidates in the future.

Inner City Development

Maybe it’s because the last Thursday in April is right around the corner. That’s the traditional date that Ms. Foundation created for recognizing Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Maybe it’s because there’s dialogue and LinkedIn status updates that talk about development of youth. Maybe it’s because as we sit and observe the future workforce and those who are entering it, the needs and the underpinnings of doing work evidence there’s a drastic need to expose that talent to the fundamentals of how the wheels of enterprise mesh and spit out the goods and services we demand.

You know, maybe it’s the fact that I recently read an article by a young woman who was trying desperately to talk about the concept of the glass ceiling but lacked the grounding to comprehend to what it refers. If we aren’t talking about the business world and the workplace at home, how do we expect our newcomers to understand what it is that they’re supposed to be equipped to do? Furthermore, it’s extremely important for these emerging candidates to see real world examples of what’s done and what’s available. They shouldn’t be forced to rely on the artificial (and superficial) images on the silver and small screens.

The agrarian life was good for development in many ways. But the Industrial Age eventually displaced the homespun lessons of being a responsible individual. Then other modern age dynamics essentially strangled most of former efforts to develop the new workforce.

I still hold out hope that we can have more than lip service development of youth in our inner cities. Where Ms. Foundation started a one-day exposure to the possibilities, there are ways to reach into those communities to nurture what we want and what we need. It would be so refreshing to see businesses that reside in communities do outreach to the Middle and High Schools to seek “interns.” These young people could spend about four hours per week being immersed in activities that teach them about the workplace and duties involved in a particular job. The interns could learn about being responsible in a palpable way, not in theory. Exposing them to the real world of costs to run a business or department, expenses of payroll and taxes that impact a business, the various components of creating and delivering the product, and one of the most important aspects, customer service all need to become part of the early exposures so that the workforce can present theirselves as better prepared and ready.

While this may sound like advocating for Regional Occupational Program (ROP), it is not. What I press you to consider is going beyond that program and perhaps folding into it the dynamics of nurturing a more aware workforce. My vision is an opportunity, an alternative, to being doomed to lack of opportunity and despised by society as a scourge. That can only lead to becoming at risk of turning to gangs for acceptance and shunning education because it is fruitless and difficult.

Is there a way that we can create more or better options for those who would have hope but for?

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