As Massachusetts looks to attract more business and continue engaging the global marketplace, our greatest competitive advantage is an educated workforce equipped with 21st-century skills. But two key roadblocks in building that work force are the lack of jobs for young people, and the gap of caring, adult mentors who can provide the guidance, support, and knowledge needed to excel. Teen employment has fallen dramatically since the beginning of the decade, hitting a 45-year low this year, and many training programs have been scaled back. These trends must be reversed if we want our work force to be competitive.
As the weather starts to warm, summer jobs initiatives are gearing up around Massachusetts. These opportunities can provide important skills needed to prepare for college and the workforce. Through groups like the Private Industry Council and Mayor Menino’s jobs program, and the efforts of several local businesses, our community has come together to make an difference. But this is only part of the solution.
Although a critical first step, getting a job doesn’t ensure success. Support is needed along the way. Through mentoring, members of the business community can help young people develop the real-world interpersonal and problem solving skills they need as they set out on a professional career path that will enable them to better themselves, their families and their communities.
The benefits of mentoring are well documented. According to the Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership, a statewide organization supporting more than 200 mentoring programs and 30,000 youth, the presence of a caring adult in the life of a young person helps them prepare for school, get set on a career track and develop important life skills.
Young people with mentors are also more likely to go on to college and to possess the time management and personal responsibility skills needed to gain, hold and succeed in a job. They have better attitudes about themselves and their futures, creating safer, stronger and more vibrant communities.
At its core, mentoring is an adult taking a vested, visible interest in the life of a young person. Mentorships come in many forms. Such relationships often take the shape of a friend, teacher, or big brother or sister helping an adolescent succeed in his or her transition to adulthood.
Mentors provide not only academic and career guidance, but also real-world strategies that can’t be taught in a classroom or gleaned from a textbook. Mentors help young people understand workplace expectations, and offer insight on how to work with a team, meet deadlines and balance day-to-day tasks against long-term projects.
The transference of such skills to the Commonwealth’s young adults is critical to meet the needs of today’s job market. There are an estimated 120,000 positions across the state unfilled because of lack of qualified applicants. To address shortfalls like this and to ensure a competitive workforce, the business community must lend its wealth of knowledge to this effort. Leadership, interpersonal and problem solving skills are ones we in business have labored to master. Even simple things like setting goals, writing a resume, or knowing what to wear to an interview are of enormous value to young people.
One way to ensure youth gain these critical skills is through summer jobs. Through these opportunities, we can provide young people with meaningful employment, and through mentoring, we can give them the skills to succeed both now and in the future.
There are nearly 3,000 teens in Massachusetts who not only could benefit from a mentor, but are actively seeking such a relationship. Even more are in search of jobs. Our community has an opportunity to help the state grow and to make a lasting difference in the lives of thousands of young people.
It’s an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.