Chicago is facing an epidemic of youth unemployment today.
In fact, a 2014 University of Illinois at Chicago study reported that 88% of Chicago’s black teens (16-19) and 85% of its Hispanic teens are jobless.
Chicago’s youth services have pointed to a “skills gap” – a mismatch between the skills teens have acquired and the skills demanded by today’s employers – as a major factor in the city’s nearly 200,000 unemployed youth.
Although organizations have attempted to close the skills gap with vocational training and industry certifications, youth employment has continued to rise. So maybe it’s time to take a closer look at this so-called skills gap.
Have we really considered which skills employers value the most?
Asking the wrong questions.
It turns out that what today’s employers value isn’t a skill at all.
It’s a mindset.
In fact, a 2011 survey of thousands of employers found that 96% of employers value a growth mindset over any particular skill in their employees.
That means that we aren’t solving the youth unemployment problem because we aren’t asking the right questions. Instead of asking which skills employers want, we should be asking how we can foster a more growth-oriented outlook in our youth.
But what is a growth mindset?
Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a growth mindset is the belief that our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
In other words, our abilities aren’t fixed, and our futures aren’t determined by inherent traits. Brains and talent are just the starting point, the place from which we grow.
It isn’t hard to understand why employers value a growth mindset—but it’s also not hard to see why our city’s youth often don’t have this perspective:
Traditional job readiness programs focus on skill development.
Chicago’s public high schools offer over 80 vocational programs. While these programs have great intentions—equipping students with skills for the workplace—they often fall short of their goals. As a vocational teacher myself from 2012 – 2015, I realized that many students struggle to connect the dots between developing a skill and achieving long-term job stability.
Chicago’s youth already fight against a stigma of failure (often made worse by the media and politicians), and programs that focus only on skill development miss the larger picture:
- Employers don’t want skills—they want a mindset.
- Youth don’t want a job—they want opportunity.
The good news is that the needs and wants of both groups can come together in a powerful way, and it starts by shifting our job readiness programs toward teaching a growth mindset.
Teaching a mindset, not a skill set: three key concepts to increase the job readiness of Chicago’s youth
For success in the modern workplace, Chicago’s youth must understand how to align skill development and experience with career opportunities.
To build a foundation for long-term employment in the modern economy, we must start teaching three growth mindset-oriented concepts in job readiness programs:
1. An entry-level job is the beginning, not the end.
Most job readiness programming culminates in real-world experience: the entry-level job. Without context, it’s easy to understand why youth interpret this experience as the last hurdle to the program, the last box to check.
In reality, though, the entry-level job is more than an opportunity to apply skill development—it is a meaningful connection between youth and employers, a relationship in which youth can be nurtured and empowered to contribute to the success of the company.
Organizations play a key role in facilitating this experience for both the employer and the youth. By offering job readiness programs that encourage both specific skill development and a growth mindset, these organizations can teach youth to view the entry-level job as a resume builder—as the first step rather than the last.
2. With the right preparation, a career is attainable.
Once youth have fulfilled the entry-level requirements of job readiness programming, they often wait for the next opportunity. Without guidance, their resumes stagnate and they repeat the entry-level job search, unaware of the potential to expand their work experience. Aging out of job readiness programming also impedes career exploration.
For these reasons, many youth view a career as an unattainable goal.
To counter these issues, job readiness programming must incorporate career exploration and roadmapping. Outlining career pathways for youth reduces barriers to entry and contributes to the development of a more independent, confident, and growth-oriented perspective.
When youth view their careers from a growth mindset—with a desire to enhance their abilities and knowledge—the skill development and experience of the entry-level job evolves to a mid-level career opportunity, and job stability becomes achievable.
3. Entrepreneurship is for everyone.
Despite its growing presence in the business world and pop culture, entrepreneurship remains a foreign concept for many youth today.
Around 75% of youth involved in job readiness programming live in a low-income household, where the annual income ranges from $24,250 to $44,863 for a family of four. In these communities, youth rarely encounter entrepreneurs. This lack of exposure is heightened by skill development programming that promotes entry-level employment as the ultimate goal, overlooking entrepreneurship.
But this outdated point of view simply isn’t sustainable in the 21st-century workforce, where even salaried employees must think like entrepreneurs.
Employers seek candidates who drive innovation, and job readiness programming must instill a growth mindset that equips youth with the skills, tools, and techniques to develop their own creative solutions. Profiling entrepreneurship as a viable career path also signals to youth their ability to rely on a valued skill set or knowledge base as a source of income.
Wearing the Crown: A growth-oriented job readiness workshop for today’s economy
To address these critical but underemphasized concepts in modern job readiness programming, Chicago-based nonprofit Nerdy Media is excited to offer our first workshop, Wearing the Crown.
This two-hour, activity-based workshop is an designed to engage and inform Chicago’s disconnected youth by equipping them with a better understanding of the modern job market. The first of many workshops, Wearing the Crown is designed to help our city’s youth make the jump from developing a skill set to developing a mindset.
Through discussion, games, and interactive activities, the workshop will teach students a growth mindset, covering not only how to develop transferable skills but how to transform those skills into viable career paths. We’ll also discuss modern economic realities and the importance of sound financial decision-making.
Preparing Chicago’s youth for employment means helping them remain relevant in today’s competitive job market. Imparting a growth mindset will not only reduce the youth unemployment rate in the short term, but will also equip our youth with the resilience and forward thinking required for long-term job stability today.
What do you think? Will job readiness programming that promotes a growth mindset impact Chicago’s high youth unemployment?
We’d love for you to join us in addressing Chicago’s high youth unemployment rate. Like Nerdy Media on Facebook or subscribe to our mailing list to learn more about our education initiatives and how you can get involved.
*Photography by Shenia McBee and Lavell Gambel, both former students of La Toia and current participants in Nerdy Media’s second program, the Youth Collective. This mentorship program connects 21st Century skills development with the real-world experiences employers most value.