Opinion: Workforce resiliency preps students

Dierk L. Hall

In today’s complex economy, once we pass the hurdle of getting hired, there’s a lot more to success at one’s chosen vocation than top-notch training or matching up with a job description. It takes mental toughness and all kinds of practical smarts.

Can we take direction? Can we work in a team, advancing our own skill set and reputation and the greater good of coworkers and the company or organization for which we work? How do we handle an unruly or vicious coworker or that boss that seems to have it in for us? Can we cope with the ups and downs of any job—or flat-out rejection?

Most of the high school students and young adult job seekers that we work with understand these dynamics and want to learn “how to work.” As a result, Connect Detroit is pleased to offer its 2nd annual Detroit Workforce Resiliency Conference this July 27 at Cobo Center. In partnership with the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, we will host more than 550 Detroit youth ages 14-24, most of whom are participants in our Grow Detroit’s Young Talent summer jobs program.

Hall writes: "Our area high schools are doing a great job at growing quality internships programs with leading Detroit business entities."

These attendees will gain exposure to workforce training and employment experiences, especially training focused on workplace resiliency skills. Among activities at the conference, these alert young people will learn about building mental and emotional wellness skills necessary to thrive in work and life. Workshops will include such topics as building a resume, recognizing and responding to bullying, and dealing with conflict and environmental trauma.

Not all of these are comfortable issues to discuss, but they are important ones to understand in navigating potential job pitfalls and remaining a positive contributor to one’s work group.

Programs like those created and sponsored by Connect Detroit, where we have helped put close to 29,000 youth in paid summer employment and training since 2009, are an important step in introducing at-risk youth to the world of work. This summer program, which provides “real” work experiences with pay, is complemented by our year-round Young Adult Education and Employability Program (YAEEP), which we offer in partnership with more than 30 public, private and nonprofit members. YAEEP’s typical annual enrollment exceeds 300 individuals.

The next step in leveraging these programs is school-term internships, which provide a more formal working contract and conditions between student and business, typical of what they will experience post-graduation.

Fortunately, our area high schools are doing a great job at growing quality internships programs with leading Detroit business entities. High schools with successful programs include Renaissance High School, one of four magnet high schools in the Detroit Public Schools district; and the Cornerstone Health + Technology High School, a Detroit charter school. Working with partners like OHM Advisors and Beaumont Health, students attend school-day internships and, in some cases, earn certifications while in high school that will allow them to go directly into a job following graduation.

Today’s employment arena features both established Detroit area companies and many exciting entrepreneurial startups, many right here in the city’s central business district, that are pursuing new technologies or business models. Connect Detroit and its strategic partners are working aggressively to expand the roster of companies offering meaningful internships to our youth. These participants can learn more about how companies operate in our modern economy and put into practice some of the lessons learned in workforce resiliency. Moreover, as we are witnessing, many of these placements will serve as a bridge to future, full-time employment.

We are finding that today’s youth are not about excuses, even those whose aspirations and talents may have been passed over in other days for lack of a guiding hand. Combining the practical with the inspirational; realistic expectations about the world of work along with the intangibles needed to surmount the unexpected, they are learning that great careers are possible.

Please consider mentoring a youth or involving your company in high school internship opportunities for young people, awarding them the gift of the tools and insights that will promote lasting success, personally and for our greater community.

Dierk L. Hall is President/CEO of Connect Detroit.