Beyond the diploma: Helping teens forge their futures

(BPT) - What’s the key to optimism? From a career standpoint, it’s having a vision where you see yourself climbing and thriving, and you know there will be a place in the world for your skills and knowledge.

Unfortunately, there are many teens and young people who have a much bleaker vision of their futures. Ask them where they see themselves in five years, and they may shrug, draw a blank or get that tight feeling in their stomachs. They worry about living their lives adrift or being left behind.

It's more prevalent than you may think. Approximately 5 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 — or one out of seven — are not enrolled in school and are unemployed, according to the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America report.

Within this problem, though, is an opportunity for these youth. The U.S. has a record 6 million job openings, even as 6.8 million Americans are looking for employment.

Two groups have come together to help young people pursue these in-demand jobs by providing resources to prepare them for college and their careers.

Through a $3 million partnership, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Hartford will help develop the next generation’s workforce by creating 30 college and career centers in the next three years. The centers will be built in Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, reaching 70,000 teens per year.

“This partnership is part of The Hartford’s commitment to help build successful communities through targeted philanthropic investment and employee volunteerism,” said Diane Cantello, vice president of corporate sustainability at The Hartford. “We are proud to partner with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to give teens access to relevant and inspiring resources as they plan their futures.”

With career preparation in mind, it’s never too early for any teen to start thinking about how to achieve workforce success. Here are some tips from Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Hartford to help young people find traction.

Set short-term and long-term goals. From passing next Friday’s test to graduating high school and pursuing a college degree, focus on setting and achieving individual goals that ladder up to your vision of success. Take time to think about the progression of steps that need to take place between now and where you hope to see yourself in the future. At the same time, don’t get overwhelmed. After all, each journey begins with a single step. And each step can shape your future in ways that are both large and small.

Learn how to look for a job — and how to stand out. Whether you’re looking for a part-time job, or starting to put together your resume, learn about what hiring managers are looking for. Spend time revising your application and resume, and ask trusted adults to help you fine-tune it. It’s also worthwhile to put your video camera to use to practice job interviews. Do some research on common interview questions and then film yourself as you answer. Learning to respond to these questions with confidence and poise will help you stand out above the crowd.

It’s never too early to network. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” While it’s true that the economy isn’t exactly stable and technology is rapidly transforming the job market, the most valuable resource in a job search is people. Talk to teachers, guidance counselors, mentors and parents about your career interests; not only can they provide feedback on what fields they see as a potential fit, they can also connect you with people in those careers for a job shadow or informational interview.

Volunteer. If you already know what you want to do, finding a volunteer opportunity is a great way to get hands-on experience. Or if you’re not sure yet, volunteering allows you to try out different things and discover what you find interesting. Take the opportunity to volunteer — on top of all the other benefits to yourself and others, community service stands out to employers, so be sure to include these experiences in your resume and talk about them during your interviews.

Pursue your passions. Discovering what you’re passionate about is a lifelong pursuit that will evolve and change over time; however, you will spend a significant portion of your life working, so why not make it as enjoyable as possible? Think about the things you love most and areas where you excel, then consider potential career options that align with those interests and skills. And above all, don’t be afraid to fail. If you discover at some point that your chosen path isn’t the best fit after all, it’s disappointing, but don’t be discouraged. Learning these things now will only help you find the career path that’s right for you.

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