Our country is in crisis, we’re facing a challenge we’ve never known before – and in all this chaos, our youth are being left behind. Youth programs and schools across the country are either struggling online or outright canceled, stranding youth in the middle of an uncertain future just as their fortunes were about to begin.
This pandemic is wreaking havoc across the globe, but it doesn’t mean doors must close on opportunities for youth. Workforce programs have a golden opportunity to turn themselves into a support system that makes this time of stillness a time for making moves, by shifting their focus off the jobs and onto the most powerful force for change: social capital.
Over the next few months, programs everywhere can play a huge role in stimulating young peoples' futures by supporting them in building and maintaining social capital connections.
Many youth have just landed their first job and a great number will lose them in these uncertain times. However, if we support youth in building up their relationships while outside of the workforce, it will only enhance their opportunities to get back in it. And if we do it right, youth can emerge from the quarantine with more than their old job in hand.
We can build systems that assist and support youth in reaching out to their work-site supervisors. Their jobs may be in flux, but their social capital doesn’t have to fare the same. We can initiate systems to help youth check-in weekly with their site supervisors where they share inspiration and information about what they’re doing to keep their skills fresh and their communities safe.
There’s no playbook for success during a pandemic. And no one should act like they have one. However, at a time when the majority of summer programs invest little to keep students connected to their work-site supervisors once the 6 week summer program end, what do you think they’ll do during a pandemic? This waste of social capital robs young people of a valuable asset - one that can only be lost by not being spent.
We’ve never faced this kind of crisis. While we can’t look to past models to inform our present, we can still adapt the things we know work: consistency, communication, and compassion. In a time like this, compassion goes both ways. When youth reach out to their those who helped them, they become the one giving help. In this reciprocal nature of social capital building - the receiver becomes the giver thereby realizing all the benefits that we know come with the act of giving.
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean disconnection. Although young people are stuck at home, don’t let them be shut out of the labor market. Because it’s our job to make sure that they are never disconnected again. Edward DeJesus is the President of DeJesus Solutions and the founder of Social Capital Builders.