One of the best things about Louisville is the sense of community, and that is very evident in many of the things that we do here at JFCS. Our Advisory Council is a perfect example; this is a group of business leaders, educators and other professionals who volunteer in a very special capacity. A few times a year, we bring them together to discuss a topic or issue that we face in our work, and together we come up with new ideas and solutions.
Last month, nearly 20 Advisory Council members met at our office to discuss some of the rising challenges we see in our Career and Workforce Development division. Our counselors have identified that college graduates between the ages of 20 and 30 are seeking career and educational advisement services in larger numbers than we have ever seen. Ellen Shapira, one of our career specialists, presented the unique challenges facing this population by sharing the stories of several young people who have been through our counseling program recently.
“Jeffrey” graduated from a state university with a psychology degree nearly two years ago, and he still has not found a satisfying career. He enjoyed working with animals in the university’s psychology lab, so he thinks he may want to work in the veterinary field. He is taking some additional courses, but unfortunately he has not performed well in his biology and chemistry classes. Jeffrey is looking for a position in a vet’s office, but he has very little work experience and has not had much luck finding a job. Shapira is working with him to identify other opportunities to work with animals, preferably those that would provide more on-the-job training and would not require an additional four-year degree.
“Anna” wanted to pay her own way through college without taking out loans. She started in a nursing program at a community college, but she found it very stressful to work 30 hours per week and attend nursing school. One of her professors noticed that she was a talented writer, so she changed her major to journalism and was soon recruited to a local state university. She did so well in her history classes that she was recruited by the history department, and changed her major again. She completed the major and received her bachelor’s degree two years ago, but she still works in the same customer service job that she used to pay her way through school. Through a full career assessment program and with Shapira’s help, Anna has identified that healthcare management and occupational therapy are potential career paths, but both will require her to seek additional education.
Jeffrey and Anna both lacked clear direction during their college years, and it has affected their professional growth after graduating from college. This appears to be a growing trend, so Shapira asked our Advisory Council for their recommendations for helping young people start their career lives on stronger footing.
One area of frustration for the employers in the group was that young applicants do not always present themselves professionally. Being late to interviews, using informal language, wearing casual clothing or showing visible tattoos and piercings were all listed as unprofessional behaviors during a job interview. At least one panel member admitted to hiring a less qualified candidate because the more qualified candidates failed to project an air of professionalism in their interviews.
Some attendees recommended military service or apprenticeships as an alternative to college that will still help prepare workers for their careers. Several council members lauded internship and mentorship programs as the best way for a new hire to enter the workforce. A partnership with the Young Professionals Association of Louisville was suggested to help our clients gain perspective on the current workforce environment from professionals who are their peers. Networking skills were emphasized several times, and sales positions were put forth as viable options for college graduates.
Carolyn Tandy, district director for the Office of Congressman John Yarmuth, stated that Congressman Yarmuth hosts an annual workshop to help Louisvillians obtain and strengthen the skills they need to take advantage of new opportunities. “Build Your Skills: A Job Hunter’s Guide to Success” could be an excellent venue for JFCS to provide its expertise in career and educational advisement services.
A few individuals, however, gave less conventional advice.
Howard Bracco, a psychologist and retired director for Seven Counties, suggested that young adults be more mindful of their life choices. He pointed out that many people go to college, get married, and buy a house because that is the traditional American formula for adulthood. “They need to be aware of choices,” Bracco said, “rather than the pathways that most of us have followed.”
Beth Rosenbaum, senior director and operations counsel for Kindred Healthcare, pointed out that job opportunities today are not the same as they were 20 years ago. The pay is not as competitive for most positions, and opportunities for upward mobility are more limited. Rosenbaum suggested not waiting until the time graduates enter the job market, and instead work with them at earlier ages to help them find something that stirs their passions. She very astutely observed that today’s career seekers may need to find gratification from something other than their working lives.
Local attorney Djenita Pasic explained that volunteer work is the best way to find out “what really moves you.” She encouraged job seekers to volunteer in places where they would like to work, because there will be opportunities to connect with others. “Get more involved with the world,” she said, because in today’s job market, the most successful job applicants have an ally or advocate who can put in a good word. Volunteering may mean delaying a big-ticket purchase, such as a house or car, Pasic said, “but at least you’ll be doing what you love.”
All of our council members had excellent advice and observations to offer, and the discussion was so lively it actually went past its scheduled time by a few minutes. Many participants gave recommendations for specific organizations and services to pursue for partnerships or as resources for our clients.
JFCS Executive Director Judy Freundlich Tiell said, “We take this very seriously and follow up on the suggestions they make. They help us think outside of our box and out in the community.” We at JFCS are very grateful to everyone who participates in our Advisory Council, and hope to implement some of their suggestions soon so that we may better serve our clients and our community.”