As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to change career tracks a couple years ago, and ended up going back to school. I think one of the best things at any level of education is the people you meet, and I was lucky to make a bunch of new friends – including several who I probably haven’t done a good enough job of thanking for their influence on me (which reminds me of this post from earlier in the year that I’m obviously still working on). One of these people is Kalista, who often seemed very aware that she was one of the youngest people in our class.
I think she was also one of the smartest. And like anyone who becomes known for an easily identifiable trait, people regularly looked to her when considering the experiences of younger people. (The pressure we put on others to speak for/represent whole demographics is a topic for another day.)
In addition to her own recent experience, she has work and volunteer experience with youth. A few weeks ago, she used some of that experience to write down some of her thoughts related to youth employment. Or more specifically: she wrote about employment of youth who are regularly labelled “at-risk” or “vulnerable”, but I think Kalista and I would agree they could just as easily be labelled as “conquerors of a bunch of barriers” and “inspirational”.
Anyway, when Kalista shared her writing with me, I asked if I could post it here as a guest blog, and I asked how she’d like to be introduced. She agreed to the guest post, and gave me the following words as an introduction: “I believe strongly in the power of youth and know that youth have an immense amount to give to society. I denounce adultism and the stereotypes that hold young people down, because I’m inspired by young people every damn day.”
So, without any further rambling from me, take a read of Kalista’s observations. There’s a lot to say about youth employment and the various issues/opportunities that go with it, but I’m not sure the following perspective gets heard often enough.
“I wish you didn’t have a job right now so you would know what it’s like to have to apply in person…it’s just awkward.”
I’m working with a young person I mentor on job applications. I’ve asked her about how she’s been applying to jobs and when she replies that she’s been applying mostly online, I suggest maybe she should try in person. You know, because that will make her more memorable and give her the chance to make a personal connection. Networking! She replies with the above quote.
The young person I mentor was not trying to be rude in her response. I think she was genuinely wishing she had someone to talk to who was going through a similar experience to herself. And she’s right. I don’t really know what it’s like right now to be a young person trying to get only their second job ever. I do know when I was applying to retail jobs a few years ago to supplement a non-profit wage, I had no retail experience, but I did have a high school diploma and a university degree, and I did not receive a single interview. The young person I mentor is 16 and still in high school.
We went through the routine of applying to a bunch of retail jobs online anyway because we were both there with a laptop and WiFi connection.
Earlier this week, I took a slightly older young person (a 23 year old who is part of another mentorship program that I coordinate) to a youth employment agency. She meets with an employment counselor; he suggests a job for her to apply to (that she’s not really qualified for), and then refers her to another staffing agency and another employment agency. I had called the same staffing agency earlier that day to inquire about supports for those with little experience and they had already told me that their postings are not entry-level positions.
Both of the youth I work with are marginalized in society, and it’s not only because they are youth with little experience.
When the first youth said she wished I knew what it was like to have to apply in person to retail positions, well, even if I were to turn back the clock to when I was sixteen I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her: a minority youth, who has had an arm amputated, applying for jobs in person.
If I had gone to the youth employment agency when I was 23, my experience would have also been different. The second youth is First Nations. The job, staffing agency, and employment agency she was referred to are all for Indigenous persons; I’m glad these exist but wonder at the passing off of responsibility and the suggestion that she spend precious time applying to a role she doesn’t have the experience for, registering with a staffing agency that doesn’t help people with her experience level, and going to another employment agency when she was already at an employment agency.
We at non-profit agencies often like to say that we walk alongside those we work with, but how can we actually walk alongside when our paths are separated by privilege in all its various forms?
I can assure you it’s not me mindlessly filling out online applications with a youth so I feel like I’m doing something. It’s not an employment counselor who just hands off a to-do list as if completing everything on the list is simple and as if completing the list will definitely lead to success.
I would suggest it involves a lot more doing, and a lot less advising. A lot less assuming about what is holding youth back. And I suggest we need to do the kind of connecting we would do for young people in our personal lives: putting them in contact with our friends and family who are hiring. Making those direct person-to-person connections they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Beyond these meager ideas, I’m not really sure. I think those of us in the non-profit sector have more work to do when it comes to understanding what it actually means to support young people, especially those who endure multiple forms of oppression, in finding meaningful employment.
(Photo credit also goes to Kalista)