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How to prepare young people for the workforce

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Published July 30. 2018 12:45PM

Student loan debt is on the rise and, unfortunately, the high cost of tuition doesn’t mean that graduates are guaranteed to find high-paying, meaningful work after earning a degree.

“Our education and workforce development systems are broken right now, and as a result, the country is facing a crisis,” says Mark C. Perna, workforce development consultant, education strategist and author of the new book, “Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations.”

“Millions of jobs in sectors crucially important to our economy and society are open and we have no one with the right skills — or even the desire — to fill them,” he says.

In “Answering Why,” Perna lays out a road map for better preparing young people for the opportunities ahead, while also closing the skills gap currently dogging the economy.

Here he offers some of his top insights and recommendations:

• Biases and misconceptions about younger generations continue to persist and there’s an intergenerational struggle to connect effectively. Perna refers to Generations Y and Z collectively as the “Why Generation,” because its members want to understand the “why” behind everything they are asked to do. We need to get to know and understand their traits and abilities if we expect them to perform beyond expectations.

• Non-college career paths have become stigmatized in this country. Experts like Perna believe that teachers and parents need to move away from the belief that everyone has to go to a four-year university to be a successful and productive citizen. Fulfilling, high-demand, high-wage careers can be attained by postsecondary training pathways beyond the traditional college route.

• We should prioritize career development exploration and education as part of the K–12 system, Perna stresses. Even many teachers, counselors and school administrators are themselves unaware of the robust opportunities available to today’s youth and have tended to devalue career exploration for the sake of sending everyone through one pathway — college.

• The Why Generation needs to better understand the relationship between self-motivation and outside motivation when it comes to achieving goals, and parents and teachers can help. To succeed today, young people must develop the ‘want-to’ that fosters passion, achievement and positive self-esteem.

“As young people prepare for and enter the world of work, we need to coach them to do three things: focus, plan and take action,” says Perna.

“This generation is tenacious and talented, but they need to be motivated to reach their peak performance. They can do it, but we have to help.”

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