By Jane Alexander, Deputy Editor
Classes are back in session for children across the country. Wherever they are, I hope all those bright, shiny faces are paying attention, and not just in their crucial STEM-related courses (science, technology, engineering, math). Invaluable life skills can be gleaned from all areas of study. The trouble is, not all kids are capitalizing on the opportunities to do so. I’ve sat in on too many industry events over the past few years where folks decry the lack of math, reading, problem-solving, communication and just plain people skills among annual crops of newly minted high school grads. The situation has evidently been bad all over.
As a MARTS attendee from the utilities sector noted during a pre-conference workshop last year, at his site, if a job candidate could not demonstrate a strong understanding of basic math in a simple, pre-qualifying test (a common occurrence), he/she wasn’t really a job candidate after all. In other words, there was no use trying to move such a person through the company’s HR jungle. And, according to this attendee, his organization was eager to fill critical positions.
Regular MT readers know of our devotion to discussions of the skills crisis—and the need to capture the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s technical and highly skilled workers early, well before they dive into the job pool. For my own part, I often use this column to spotlight innovative efforts and initiatives aimed at doing just that (i.e., actor John Ratzenberger’s Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation; Dean Kamen’s FIRST competitions; Alabama Power’s iCan Girls in Engineering program that men-tors young women toward technical careers, long before they enter college). Countless communities, companies, institutions and associations offer similar opportunities, either individually or in partnerships with like-minded entities. Here’s another one I recently came across: Year Up. Check it out.
While not specifically focused on growing a skilled industrial workforce (and starting with older youth than the efforts mentioned above), Year Up appears to be building a successful track record. Sponsored by well-known names from the business, financial and technology sectors, its mission (according to www.yearup.org) is to close the “Opportunity Divide” by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience and support that empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. The program achieves its goals via a high-support, high-expectation model “that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships and college credits.” Among the important values Year Up seeks to reinforce is “strive to learn.” That, to me, is key.
No single approach will solve the massive workforce crisis we face. Helping our children appreciate the importance of striving to learn and pursuing excellence in all aspects of their lives, though, seems like a good area we all could focus on. Regardless of how busy our own lives are, let’s agree to never miss an opportunity to offer striving lessons. MT