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College and Career Pathways

More Than Ever, Young People Need Currency-Builders

Introduction from Kumar Raj, senior program officer

At The Skilllman Foundation, our aspiration for young people is that they have equitable access to learn and to lead. We want Detroit youth to be ready for whatever path they decide to pursue after high school, to engage in civic leadership, and to thrive in the ever-changing economy.

The world moves very quickly, and with it, the world of work is being constantly reshaped. Stephanie Krauss, has been working for more than a decade to make sure that youth growing up with the fewest resources are invested in and prepared to lead a strong future.

In this blog, she writes about the four currencies young people need to make it in tomorrow’s world. If you like what you read–and I’m sure you will–take a look at her book, Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. It’s fantastic.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly four million youth in the US will graduate high school this year. Many others won’t finish, having left school or fallen behind because life demands made it hard if not impossible to keep up.

Today’s young people are one of the most recession-resilient groups in modern history. They were born right after 9/11 and will exit K-12 the same way they came in — in an economic crisis during a time of global upheaval. The Great Recession and COVID pandemic bookend their K-12 schooling experience.

Disruption, volatility, and rapid change will follow them into adulthood. Alongside chaos will be incredible innovations and a future of work that includes new jobs and evolving relationships to technology and each other. While young people are digital and disruption natives, many lack a roadmap for what is ahead, as well as the resources to make it.

To ensure they get what they need, we must expand our horizon beyond college and career readiness to preparing young people for the possibility of long and livable lives.

Long lives because even with today’s challenges, young people could live to be 100. That means the possibility of an 80-year working life and countless life stages and transitions. Livable lives because learning, working, and living must continue even while facing global pandemics, recessions, racism, climate crises, political division, and countless other obstacles and inequities.

In an age of unprecedented challenge and change, the terms of the social contract the US has historically operated from — finish high school, go to college, get a job, get better jobs, and one day retire comfortably — is flawed and outdated.

After transitioning into adulthood, young people will find themselves in a vast and increasingly complex Opportunity Marketplace, full of education and employment “opportunity vendors.” Like other markets, some consumers will shop with plenty of resources and know-how. Others will not. Then there will be those who do not know how to get into the market, or what to do once they’re there.

In a world where jobs keep evolving or dissolving, this Opportunity Marketplace will be a place young people have to return to, again and again. The market takes four currencies: competencies, connections, credentials, and cash. Having one or two isn’t enough. Vendors want to know what you can afford, what you can do, who you know, and how you can prove it. It’s not fair or just, but it is the way things work right now.

Adults who are raising and working with young people must become currency-builders. Here is how to start:

  • Competencies: prioritize experiences that build a young person’s abilities to focus, think, create, learn, solve problems, stay healthy, persist, connect, and keep going. This can happen in-person or online, as well as in a classroom, at home, at work, or in the community. Young people need tons of opportunities to develop and strengthen these competencies. They are the internal forces that will fuel a young person over a long life.
  • Connections: so many young people are struggling with mental health or missing out on vital pre-pandemic social experiences. We must make time and space for relationships, get-togethers, and interactions. This includes friends and family, as well as connecting to mentors and building relationships that can one day help with with getting into higher education and the workforce.
  • Credentials: young people (and their families) need honest and practical advice on what to do about college, especially given these times. The world of college and postsecondary credentials is rapidly growing and changing. To make the best decisions, young people need up-to-date information. They need inquiry-based college advising that is current, comprehensive, and compassionate. Time horizons may need to be adjusted, with decisions based on what young people want and can afford now, rather than what they hope to do with the rest of their lives.
  • Cash: as the costs of college, housing, healthcare, and dependent care go up, so will the possibility of experiencing ongoing or new economic hardship. Older youth need a robust and equitable financial education and straight-up cash. Life is expensive, and they need to be able to afford it. Young people also need to learn how to save and spend, invest and manage debt, and what to do and where to go when they need money.

There is no special training for currency-building, or frankly, for this moment. For now, adults must do what we can even if it’s only currency-building as crisis care. Moving forward, currency-building should be embraced as a call and crucial responsibility. Young people deserve the chance to have a long and good life. They need our help to get there.

Stephanie Malia Krauss is the author of the new release, Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World.

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