As a Career Strategist and Consultant, as well as a Masters-Level Therapist to adolescents and young professionals, I work with those in low socioeconomic areas to help captivate their professional purpose and recognize their potential to pursue any occupational goals. What can we do as career development professionals to assist inner city youth with leadership and professional development to prepare them to compete in tomorrow’s academic movement and workforce?
Let us explore this population, which is categorized as minority youth in that reside in low-income communities. The picture painted of inner city youth are those individuals who experience economic shortcomings, daily problems, and reside in communities that are low in resources, including educational and technological tools for academic advancement, and crime ridden areas (Li, Nussman, & Richards, 2007). Do career development professionals understand poverty and the mental processes of those in poverty?
Children in poverty stray away from academic and career topics; most discussions are about entertainment, people, and relationships.
Children who come from poverty are often likely to underperform on standardized testing, suffer from developmental delay, and give birth in their teen years.
Children in poverty are usually exposed to a casual register that consists of slang, poor jargon, incomplete writing and speaking skills and have issues holding a conversation. They usually have generalized word choices and their sentence syntax lacks substantially.
Most children in poverty are taught to survive and live in the moment. Thinking past their present circumstances are not encouraged (Payne, 2005).
Now the question is how do we, as their work development counselors, career coaches, or career development strategists, go about educating these youth?
First, it’s important to educate them using language that will captivate their attention. Speaking to them through casual and formal register or a blended register of the two is recommended. What happens is that you are giving them an insight on vocabulary and communication stimulation and stealing their attention span to allow them to hear what you have to say and teach.
You must give them the opportunity to voice their objections, their concerns as to why they feel inadequate to succeed beyond what is expected of them. Some children in the inner city may feel that hope for them is nonexistent and may need that help to vocalize that. You be the listening ear and offer them solutions, action plans, and follow-up to evaluate their progress.
Partner up with agencies, teachers, parents, and people in the community that the child or teen is working with or receiving education, services or assistance from. They need a team supporting them every step of the way.
Praise their efforts. If you teach a child or teen interviewing skills and you measure their progress through a period of time, praise their accomplishment for trying. They will become more and more excited to give you their best.
Establish trust and build rapport. Many youth in the inner city have issues with trust and reliability. Keep your word and promises. Stick to a structure that will allow them to adopt that same structure in their own lives.
Give them a lot of time to explore different careers. Invite wealthy, well-to-do motivators, and professionals, even people who are just happy where they are professionally, who come from the inner city and able to relate to them and their situation. This gives them lasting hope.
An example of a leadership development program that assisted with the retention of high school students at-risk for dropping out of school, was the Maryland’s Tomorrow and FUTURES program. Merging the components of inner-city families, youth, employment training practitioners, and the business and corporate communities, the creators recruited young at-risk students before the 9th grade, training them into the 12th grade. The students were trained in basic skills, work experience, leadership development, and motivation, among other work-related components. The results of this program were simply amazing: after the first year of implementing the program, 82 % of the participants after high school were in some form of post-secondary education, whether it was a university or vocational training program (Lever, Sander, Lombardo, Randall, Axelrod, Rubenstein, & Weist, 2004). The program was able to teach adequate life skills, provide great mentors from neighboring communities that could relate to the students, and give them opportunities to be exposed to diversity and a sense of hopefulness.
Leadership development and inner city youth have been a target of counselors, nonprofit agencies, and other professionals that see a need in their communities. However, measuring the effectiveness of these programs is important. Having pre-tests and post-tests of surveys and assessments to manage and analyze the success of leadership development in a school district or program can provide the needed measurement component. Building a network of positive change in our nation’s inner city’s youth population will prepare them for tomorrow’s constant changing workforce. We hope to see new professionals, leaders, and even entrepreneurs who have created their own futures by listening and being inspired by career leaders, like us.
Li, S. T., Nussman, K. M., & Richards, M. H. (2007). Risk and protective factors for African-American youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39, 21-25. DOI: 10.1007/s10464-007-9088
Lever, N., Sander, M. A., Lombardo, S., Randall, C., Axelrod, J., Rubenstein, M., & Weist, M. D. (2004). A drop-out prevention program for high-risk inner-city youth. Behavior Modification, 28(4), 513-527. doi:10.1177/0145445503259520
Payne, Ruby. A framework for understanding poverty (4th ed.). Highlands, TX: 2005.
Jayna Butler, MS is a freelance Career and Training Consultant. She has over 10 years of experience working with youth and young adults in low-income areas. She possesses a BA in Psychology and a Masters degree in Counseling. Currently, she is working on a doctorate degree in Organizational Psychology at Walden University. Her research interests include leadership development/career preparation for at-risk youth and young adults and career planning and development for women in low-income areas. Jayna is a proud working mom of a little girl and definitely loves to inspire others for success. For more information, you may email her at Jayna.firstname.lastname@example.org.