A quick Google search using the terms "Recent college graduate employment" makes clear the fear many students today have about getting a job when they graduate-- from high school or college. This fear seems especially pervasive for students from low-income backgrounds. As one student told me during the Discover stage, "why bother with school. . . I am going to have to work no matter what I do, and no one is going to hire a black kid like me from my neighborhood and pay me a lot of money-- it just doesn't happen."
This was a pervasive fear, particularly with the young men I interviewed about their fears and hope for college. To add to the students fear, the Economic Policy Institute reported:
"Unemployment of young graduates is extremely high today, but not because of something unique about the Great Recession and its aftermath that has affected young people in particular. Rather, it is high because young workers always experience disproportionate increases in unemployment during periods of labor market weakness—and the Great Recession and its aftermath is the longest, most severe period of economic weakness in more than seven decades."
This had me thinking; my original idea was: How might we use work study to build student self-efficacy.
While building up and tearing down that idea, I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times about how Google creates great teams. In that article, the key ingredient was "psychological safety." In other words, team members needed to feel safe to take a risk. . . go back to the quote from the young man in my school, does he sound like he feels safe to take a risk?
At the same time, I was tearing apart my idea of using my schools work study program to build self-efficacy, I heard an interview with one of the first black computer engineers at IBM. In the interview, the engineer spoke of the many challenges he faced being the only African-American in his department. He also discussed why it is so hard to "crack the diversity issue." His insights came down to the fact that Google, Apple, et. al. are in a white area of California, and none of it seems real or accessible to those who don't look the people already there.
So. . . how might we use a corporate work study program to build student academic/psychological safety?
Answer. . . by having students interview for entering level college graduate positions before going to college. Companies could extend students conditionally job offers that would require students meet certain academic requirements and stay on track. Assuming students fulfill these demands than upon graduation, would start with the company. Companies could even use breaks to bring students in to get them connected to the work environment, so they feel they are progressing towards employment.
In essence, my idea is to replicate the military academy system for students in private industry. For example, I interview with Ernst and Young and am "hired." Ernst and Young would place certain requirements for me to follow. If I meet those requirements, I would be given an entry level position with the company. If I change my mind or fail to meet the necessary conditions, the job is given to another recent graduate. The idea is to create a level of safety for students who otherwise don't feel safe in taking the risk that is college.