SuperTalk Mississippi

Next Up: Future should be focused on empowering the next generation

If you’ve yet to read my colleagues’ previous “Next Up” columns, I strongly suggest you do so. They provide a compelling synopsis regarding the future of Mississippi’s millennials. In short, our time is now. It’s vitally important we know our voices are heard and our opinions are respected. The skills of young professionals will drive Mississippi’s workforce into the future, challenging the status quo and leading innovation across the state.

As we prepare for what will be the height of many of our professional careers, I want to look ahead and start an early conversation around the young minds of those emerging behind us, especially those who may not have equitable access to resources and opportunities.

Today’s youth face overwhelming pressures that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. The country has witnessed a sharp uptick in youth violence, an increased prevalence of teen suicides, and a lack of motivation that has plagued our young people — all of which have profound economic implications.

While millennials are the current trending topic, Gen Z is coming in hot, and we must equip them with the skills needed to be successful. A robust future economy will depend highly on today’s youth having the skills to secure jobs and become productive members of society. Research shows that connecting young people to the workforce increases this likelihood.

I have had the honor and pleasure of working on behalf of thousands of young people during my 7-year tenure at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast. Our mission, “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens,” guides us as we bridge this workforce development gap, building tomorrow’s leaders, makers, and visionaries.

We recognize that the next generation of young people is rapidly becoming “Next Up.” Our approach combines essential skill development, career exposure, employability skills & certifications, and work-based learning to cultivate young people’s interests and expose them to life after high school.

Partnering with local agencies such as the University of Southern Mississippi’s GenSea program, we provide youth with exclusive and hands-on access to the vast Blue Economy career opportunities in our coastal corridor. In collaboration with national partners such as Old Navy, teens complete on-the-job training and walk out with a nationally recognized retail certificate and, in many cases, a first job offer. Our ImPact Mentoring program partners at-risk youth with professional mentors based on career interests. These mentors commit to providing valued tools and advice to help youth realize their talents and value in the workforce.

These public/private partnerships, companies that support the growth of the next generation of their workforce, and mentors that step up to the plate are essential to our young people’s success and Mississippi’s future.

I challenge you to become an invested participant in the movement to prepare young people for the future, playing an active role in the change you want to see. We can all name at least one experience that sparked a fire in us or the one mentor that inspired us to chase our dreams. My call to action for you is this: Create that one. Be that one. Advocate for that one.

The “Next Up” column series is a partnership between the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, Coast Young Professionals, and SuperTalk Mississippi. The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media.

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