Op-Ed

Preparing young people for jobs that don’t exist yet

North Carolina has a huge jobs challenge looming. By 2040, nearly half of all jobs could be lost to automation and other technological innovation. There will be new jobs created, of course, but more than half of them will be in occupations that do not exist today. We have little choice. We have to be creative and reach beyond textbooks in preparing our emerging labor force for a radically changed future of work.

Youth with strong connections to their schools, faith institutions and communities experience powerful benefits. For instance, a report produced by Opportunity Nation – a bipartisan, national coalition of 300-plus nonprofits, educational institutions and community leaders – makes the case that “connected” youth, those who volunteer or participate in a civic or social organization, are far more likely to benefit by translating new skills and social connections into better job opportunities.

If engagement has the potential to help connect young people to work opportunities today, then engagement may well become an even more significant economic help in the years to come. As entire occupations come and go more quickly, those who have more access to information, networks and ever-evolving skills will be better positioned.

At the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State, we’re teaming with folks across North Carolina to get to work on the issue of engaging youth. We are focused on those ages 16 to 24. At the inaugural #YouthEngageNC Summit, simulcast from sites in Raleigh, Asheville and Greenville this month, 200 nonprofit and business leaders, educators, elected officials and youth – representing more than 120 North Carolina organizations – explored strategies for successful youth engagement.

Business people from some of the most successful corporations in our state wrestled with the issues of youth engagement along with teachers, after-school coordinators, workforce development professionals, university administrators, church leaders, civic organizations and students. Those corporations understand that #YouthEngageNC is critical in developing their future workforce.

Community engagement

Today, less than 25 percent of youth say they volunteer, and only 15 percent claim to be part of a school group or community organization. To the extent young people are consumers of news, more than 60 percent get news from social media sources. Less than 5 percent say they have done something in the last year to help a neighbor. Summit participants also noted the challenges to improvement. The averages belie significant differences across race and ethnicity, educational attainment and geography. We have to reach all groups.

Across the state, we need a grander number of meaningful opportunities for engagement for greater numbers of young people. Those convened for the #YouthEngage Summit agreed to three important takeaways for Raleigh:

▪  We need to do a better job of sharing effective youth engagement practices across our organizations and sectors.

▪  We need to engage more young people in the work of engaging their peers, especially around issues that directly affect them.

▪  We need to bring even more organizations from every sector into a campaign to reach our youth in ways that offer all the social and community benefits of engagement, including helping them prepare for the future of work.

At the 31st Annual Emerging Issues Forum, “FutureWork,” in Raleigh in February, we will explore youth engagement as one pressing issue embedded in the broader question: As technology and demography shift, how can North Carolina prepare today to create enough good jobs for tomorrow?

Anita R. Brown-Graham is director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University.

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