Communities contain a variety of assets, that when recognized and honored, can be the solution to local workforce and economic development issues. The beginning of this uncovering process may initially start as a simple volunteer experience. Today’s youth are hearing a variety of voices regarding current workforce conditions and higher education options. One message worth hearing is the message of ‘hope’. Gallup scientists have learned that hope predicts academic success and graduation better than grades or test scores do (Clifton, 2011). Through volunteerism, many communities are engaging in unique ways to build bridges and forge relationships that would not have been sought in easier times. This is a positive investment that serves to prosper families, communities, and regions. Vocational education and career exploration strengthens community and fosters economic development in the most unconventional ways. This article will profile one region (Ventura County California) wherein volunteerism is bringing students into the marketplace and business into the classroom.
Three Examples of Community Engagement through Volunteering:
Chamber of Commerce – In an effort to bring awareness to the local manufacturing industry workforce needs, a Chamber of Commerce partners with a local high school to provide industry tours. This pilot program of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce in Ventura County, CA is collaborating with industry and education to highlight a viable option for post-secondary success. The Simi Valley Adult School (SVAS) and Career Institute offers Machinist Technician Certification, which is a valid recognized credential in the field. The tour begins at the Career Institute wherein students from the high school metalworking shop class are guided on a detailed visit of the machine shop. From there, the students are transported to two different manufacturers and given thorough tours by senior executives. Industry specific information is shared which both piques and intrigues the interests of the juniors and seniors. The business leaders speak to the students about the hard and soft skills needed to begin in the field and the growth potential for further technical-level promotion and earnings. School administrators and teachers join the tours and add value to the event. Tours in the ‘Health Science’ industry are being added for the 2013-2014 school year.
Segue Career Mentoring – This local non-profit empowers, inspires, and motivates students by increasing their awareness of real career options. Volunteers, in all careers from a community’s workforce, become career mentor speakers and share their "career path stories" in local classrooms. They tell students the real world lessons they learned along their path to the workplace. In their hour-and-a-half hours on campus they speak for 20 minutes in three classrooms and have the opportunity to make a real difference in 80-120 students’ lives. Harvard’s study of Segue found statistically significant student impacts in areas known to increase academicachievement and reduce dropout: Mastery Orientation, College Intentions, and Future Talk. Career mentor speakers inspire students about “Possible Selves” in the real world that they can become. This helps them see the relevance of school: they learn from the speakers’ examples that working harder now is for their own benefit, they graduate high school, and they go further with their education such as in a technical training program or a four-year university.
Junior Achievement of Southern California– Junior Achievement USA is the nation's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. As a volunteer driven non-profit, the organization is dedicated to empowering young people through financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. JA’s experiential, hands-on programs develop economically sustainable communities by teaching the economic relevance of staying in school and going on to post-secondary education or training. All JA programs (Elementary, Middle School, and High School) correlate with state education standards (aligned to the new common core) and aid teachers’ efforts to meet required goals. Volunteers from the community present the program, and all of the materials are provided at no cost to schools. Each program consists of a handful of lessons which each take approximately 45 minutes to deliver. Junior Achievement was established in 1919 by two businessmen and has stood the test of time nearly 100 years later by adapting and designing innovative and relevant content to enrich young people in the 21st century.
An April 2013 article in The Economist cites the importance of “forging closer relationships between companies and schools” as a necessary practice to address the issue of a skills mismatch and the disconnect between education and the labor market.
Community Connecting to Help with Youth Career Development
One of the pillars supporting the ‘Pathways to Prosperity’ research out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Symonds, W., Schwartz, R., & Ferguson, R., 2011) is that there would be more of a ‘social compact’ between a community and its young people. The document calls for an expanded role for employers in constructing a more effective network of vocational avenues. Some of the ways that community organizations and employers can help with youth career development are:
Youth Job Fairs
Service Learning Projects
Contributing to instructional/curriculum development
Lighting The Path
Imagine all of the growth that comes through service to others. The people we meet along the way light the paths of life and inform career development. I’m sure we can all reflect on the people who have directly or indirectly influenced our vocational direction, creating ‘hope’. Often times these encounters leave lasting impressions that are revealed in the choices we make. The possibilities for volunteering are only a conversation away.
Clifton, J. (2011). The coming jobs war. Gallup Press: New York, NY
Symonds, W., Schwartz, R., & Ferguson, R. (2011). Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century. Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The Economist. April 27, 2013. Generation jobless. Retreived May 18, 2013. From
Tracy DiFilippis, M.S. GCDF, is a Job Developer with PathPoint a non-profit in Ventura County California. She has served a number of years in working with youth transitioning to adulthood and is passionate about empowering people to achieve vocational growth opportunities that bridge social gaps and create inclusive communities. She volunteers with two Chambers of Commerce and the Ventura County Civic Alliance in education, workforce, and economic development areas. She can be reached at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tracy-difilippis-m-s-cdf/24/85b/aa1 or Tdifilippis@gmail.com