Thinking Differently About Workforce Development

We are excited to feature a blog post written by a grantee from our Regional Portfolio, Genesys Works. This organization changes the life trajectory of underprivileged high school students by enabling them to work in meaningful internships at major corporations during their senior year of high school. The following article was originally published on the Genesys Works blog on July 22, 2016.

 

by Peter Katz, Executive Director at Genesys Works - Bay Area

It’s fascinating that while the San Francisco Bay Area is often hailed as the center of technical innovation and social change (and deservedly so) many companies are still operating with old and traditional mindsets of workforce development and community engagement. For example, if you say the word “internship”, the response is often one of two things: “Oh, we bring in college interns every year” or “We have a summer program for high school students”. We could move the needle so much further by thinking more broadly.

By providing internships to college students only, we are limiting our impact on breaking the cycle of poverty. According to a Lumina Foundation report, only 1 in 10 people from low income families will earn a college degree. Worse,  many economically disadvantaged youth won’t even get that chance - in 2014, the California Department of Education reported dropout rates in San Francisco to be over 50% for minorities.

A life-changing internship can be the key to motivation, awareness, and opportunity. Studies show that internships significantly help students get into better colleges and land higher paying jobsBut it has to happen earlier, while the student is still in high school and making that all-important decision of whether to pursue an advanced degree or just start working, usually at a low-wage job. College students have made that choice and are well on the path. The impact is profoundly more powerful for a disadvantaged high schooler.

“But what about summer programs for teens?” Again, it’s all about the impact. Summer jobs are great, and often the student can provide valuable help – for a few weeks. Imagine the growth a student would experience if they could work after school for the whole school year. Imagine the kind of projects the company could assign if they weren’t limited by a six to eight week window.

With schools and non-profits providing high school students with greater technical expertise, as well as the all-important interpersonal skills such as timeliness, verbal communication, initiative, and grit, the caliber and capabilities of the young worker jump tremendously. And if you layer that on top of the underserved population, their personal success metrics become astounding. Best of all, there are proven solutions out there such as Genesys Works, where 90% of our students come from disadvantaged background, while 98% go on to college (with 94% persisting). At the same time, the corporations where they intern note measurable increases to productivity and output because of their work. 

Just as innovative technologies can be highly disruptive and lead to dramatic competitive success, so can new approaches to staffing and workforce development. In a highly competitive landscape, hungry for human resources, growing our workforce at an even earlier age pays wonderful dividends – for students, businesses and our community.