Developing Young Leaders: The Key Is Bridging the Education Gap

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I am about developing young leaders. Students who see beyond surviving school and getting a job.

At Growing Leaders, we want to equip students to lead the way into the future; students who solve problems and serve people. The time has never been more ripe for this mission.

A large employer of young people recently spoke with a representative from the Georgia Department of Education. In essence, he said, “We are not asking grads about their GPA or their SAT. We are hunting for soft skills, communication skills and leadership skills. And we are not finding them.”

But is it the kids’ fault?

The jobs are ready, but the graduates aren’t

According to a study done by McKinsey and Company, barely 50 percent of youth today believe their education actually increases their chance at getting a job. They just don’t see the classroom as a relevant place to “get ready.”

The McKinsey study included 4,500 students, 2,700 employers and 900 educational institutions in nine (9) countries. Their findings confirm what I’ve been saying since 2008. We cannot survive an economic recession while at the same time produce graduates who’ve not been prepared for the working world.

Once again this year, somewhere between one third to one half of the job openings for entry level employees (i.e. “recent graduates”) went unfilled. In other words, the jobs were ready — but the graduates weren’t. Youth are now three times more likely to be unemployed than their parents. According to social scientists, this has become more than an economic issue but a social and psychological one as well.

So what’s the problem? More importantly, what’s the answer?

Not enough collaboration with schools and businesses

One major problem is that schools and businesses are not collaborating well. Two thirds of employers are not in touch with educational institutions. And vice versa.

It’s as though both are operating in a “silo.” 70 percent of educators believe the kids they are graduating are ready for work. Less than half of the students or the employers agree. Houston, we have a problem. It’s a communication gap.

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How can this happen? Simple. Most of the corporations who hire are from the private sector. Most of the schools are from the public or state sector. The two frequently fail to stay in touch with each other. In fact, they’re often are at odds with each other.

So — what would happen if the schools and businesses got together?

What if they talked and agreed on an outcome that includes both academic rigor, critical thinking and the development of a healthy world view, but also practical skills that will enable kids to be employable? What if students could actually see how their classroom experience was going to pay off once they graduate? It might just keep more kids in school — and keep them engaged.

Each year, I get to see high schools and colleges that get this right. Fortunately, that number is increasing. Most of them I speak to are using my book Habitudes  Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. Teachers introduce images that represent timeless principles, which in turn spark conversations, which ultimately lead to experiences that change their life.

If you’re an educator, may I suggest you sit down soon with some employers and talk about what they need? If you’re an employer, would you please sit down with school administrators and ask what you can do to help prepare kids for life and career?

The real winner from this conversation? It will be the kids.

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