by Jim Rhodes, Business Advocate
My wife Debra and I are about to enter our second year of teaching in the Jobs For Life training program at the Mondo Anaya Community Center at Seeds of Hope. Mark Vanderheyden, executive director of Seeds of Hope, gave us the opportunity. Jobs for Life is a prescriptive employment readiness program that includes a faith-based support strategy designed to empower participants to be successful both at work and at life. The general goal is to assist students to be work-ready and to then help them to find jobs. What began as a teaching opportunity has been an outstanding learning opportunity for both of us. Thank you, Mark.
On a parallel track, most of us pay close attention to various educational opportunities that are prescribed by law and are funded and distributed with both tax dollars and private dollars. These opportunities have a much broader purpose than just preparing a student for employment. What is actually included in this broader purpose is the subject of much discussion and volumes of research, possibly even some politics.
What we generally seek are the answers to the question: “How do we prepare willing and able individuals to look after themselves and after those who depend on them?” One practical reason for answering this question is that, in the future, society may not be able to afford to care for a growing dependent population. Hopefully we can discover the importance of the answers and an ongoing discussion of information supporting the answers will emerge.
Let’s begin by trying to move into place some of the big pieces. I’m not an expert but stringing together 60 years of employment and education, it looks something like this. Keep in mind that experts who have dedicated much of their lives to this topic will have a more complete and useful picture. Work readiness is a life process rather than a test score. It starts early with personal characteristics that initially may not be even remotely identifiable as work-connected. Readiness emerges one building block at a time.
Years back, I had an opportunity to visit the Child Development Laboratory at the Merrill Palmer Institute at Wayne State University in Detroit. We looked at young people from age two through kindergarten. The philosophy of the Child Development Laboratory is developmental. The curriculum addresses physical, intellectual, social and emotional needs. Children, stimulated by their environment, are motivated to interact. Broadly speaking, they benefit from some sort of common language. The arts, if you let them, can be expressions or examples of languages. They may be the traditional humanities arts such as painting, sculpture, music, literature and dance or music. Feel free to add or subtract whatever diversity suggests. This is part of the concept, “culture is transmitted through the arts.” It is where readiness begins. As you can see, in our schools and in our lives we ignore the arts at our peril.
Work readiness is a process, so let’s take these baseline concepts of early education forward a few years. Out of college I did the hourly hiring for a large automobile plant near Detroit. We hired about 300 workers a month. I got a pretty good idea of what was necessary for someone to get a job and keep a job making cars. A couple of years later I was a young police officer in the inner city Detroit Tenth Precinct and funding grad school by substitute teaching senior ungraded high school classes for the Detroit Board of Education. Class size was small and no one ever visited to tell me what to do or not to do. I prevailed upon my old friends at Chevrolet to share with me pads of unused employment applications. My concept of work readiness came from members of the inner city precinct business community. My premise was that if I could teach young people the niceties of filling out an application and getting past the employment interviewer that they could learn to put lug nuts on wheels and get paid for it. The generalities of families and ownership followed. I realize that the lug nut jobs are no longer fashionable but many occupations have some sort of replacement entry level activity.
So, on the journey to the world of work, what does an individual need to learn? Jobs for Life is a faith-based example of some of the skills and beliefs that help an individual get past the employment interviewer and operate successfully under the watchful eye of the boss. It is one of several programs of its type. In our experience it works. Students have “aha” moments. They enjoy some little personal victories. They earn wages. They participate in our economy. Finally, they understand the importance of replicating this process over and over again with offspring and family members.
There’s not a singular menu of very specific things a person must remember in order to be employable. The most valuable skills support the willingness of individuals to take responsibility for doing what they have agreed to do in return for wages. The most important personal trait is adaptability. The characteristics of the world of work are changing almost faster than we can record them and teach them. Recognizing new opportunities is important to our workplace survival. I have heard that somewhere out there is a piece of research that says children from broken homes are more successful than others at entrepreneurship. Hmmm. We’ll have to look into that.