Opportunity Summit 2019: Reimagining Workforce When Our Future is Right in Front of Us

Posted by Ronald J Stefanski on May 2, 2019

"There is an old African proverb: If you don't embrace the young in your village, they will return later to burn it down for its warmth."

At yesterday's 2019 Opportunity Summit, Andy Hall, COO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, inspired the crowd with this adage at the opening session.

Keep it simple. Start with the end in sight.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership employed these two basic strategies to attract and inspire 800+ employers, education leaders, and workforce and community partners at their 3rd Annual OpportunitySD Summit 2019.

Let's start with the audience- 25% of the participants in the audience and on stage were opportunity youth. To be clear, these are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who are not working and not in school.

Why is this significant? Because unlike so many of the convenings I've recently attended on behalf of Penn Foster on upskilling, workforce, and the future of work, none has more boldly insinuated opportunity youth into the conversations taking place on their behalf than the Opportunty Summit. This seems to be both simple and critical if we are to build programs and create true access for our next generation of workers. As Peter Callstrom, CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership stated:

"We need them in the room when we are having these conversations so they can help us identify what works and what doesn't. They need to be participants and partners in our plans." 

If we think about the times in which we live, and the challenges we currently confront in our communities and across the country, this is the generation to whom we've bequeathed the future. That's a tall order. 

This is the group that we will turn over responsibility to rebuild our roads, advance our technology, revitalize our neighborhoods, fix our schools, cure our common ailments, maintain the peace, protect the environment, grow our businesses, strengthen our cities, and reconnect our families and communities and fuel and sustain our continued economic development.

There are plenty of opportunity youth to embrace. There has never been a larger audience of opportunity youth in our country's history. And interestingly, they are entering the workforce just as we will be looking at the largest body of baby boomers retiring and exiting the workforce.

But lest we overlook this emerging reality: We need to add to this complexity the disruption taking place in education, and the concomitant disruption that AI and technology are introducing into the workplace. This just raises the stakes even further.

Are they ready to step up? If not, have we honored our responsibility to get them ready?

This is the $64k question. The fact that the San Diego Workforce Partnership has taken a bold step forward bringing more young adults into this absolutely critical conversation is something other workforce partners need to make note of.

When we do, the results are both eye opening and instructive. Over 35,000 young people fit this description in San Diego alone. How many are in your community? There's a good possibility this number is way bigger than you imagined.

And what do we know about them? Data is important here. In San Diego, over 70% have a high school diploma or less. But at the same time close to 10% of those with a college degree remain disconnected. And black youth disconnection outpaces all races by a significant margin.

Listening to these young adults is simultaneously inspiring and sobering. Poverty, incarceration, and homelessness form a part of many of their narratives. But so does resilience, creativity, and persistence as well.

The conversations continued at the Summit throughout the day. Many of them performed, and went off stage and shared their personal stories in smaller groups or posted them to shareyourroad.com during the interactive plenary session with Roadtrip Nation.

At the end of the day, we came to a new beginning- what we do next to ensure that whatever their path, opportunity youth are driven by their own dreams and ambitions and supported by a community of partners, mentors and advocates.

Authentic youth engagement is a simple proposition. But we shouldn't confuse that with easy. Throughout the course of the day and in all the sessions, San Diego Workforce Partnership just made it look that way.