Supporting New Graduates in a Pandemic

High school graduates face a sober reality after the congratulations cards are tucked away. High unemployment, business closures, and uncertainty about college leave grads and their parents struggling over next steps.

WorkForce Central, WorkSource Pierce, and our community partners are working to connect young people to opportunities. The graduates of the Great Recession took a decade to make up for their rough start. How can we help a new generation do better?

Focus on young people. As our partner Phyllis Harvey-Buschel, Ed.E. of Career Connect Washington says, our response calls for a laser focus on young people. Phyllis’s organization supports career-connected learning. As the economy starts to recover, we ask business leaders to stay engaged with programs that give young adults the skills and experience they need to start careers.

Expand earn-to-learn opportunities. The workforce system in Pierce County recently received grants to develop additional programs to allow young adults to earn while they learn in paid internships in sectors like health care and technology. This compliments programs like Washington Service Corps and allows young adults to meet their basic needs while gaining needed skills and certifications.

Improve access to online resources. Many services by necessity have pivoted to the virtual world. Virtual job fairs and other online job search and mentoring programs are available through WorkSource Pierce. We’ve launched a free public Wi-Fi map of Pierce County to help remove barriers to online resources. For social and economic justice, everyone in our community needs improved access to technology and online resources.

Ramp up outreach efforts. Real guidance in a tough employment market comes from one-on-one conversations. Tamar Jackson, WorkForce Central’s Director of Community Engagement, finds young people where they are—be it the park or a grocery store—and talks with them about their goals and how to get there. Through the Pierce County Community Engagement Task Force, Tamar is championing a new approach where people don’t have to navigate the system, the system navigates the people.

Give specific, actionable advice to new grads. A lot of today’s environment is beyond grads’ control. But they can control how they react and prepare for opportunities when they come. Encourage them to use this time to brush up on or develop new skills. If grads come to you for advice, be specific about the steps you took to get your job. Tell them to stay connected with friends and family and build their network. And finally, remember this is a difficult time. Urge them to take care of their mental health.

The pandemic is accelerating economic change. As a workforce system we are working hard to innovate and respond. As the graduates of 2020 turn to job searches, we are here to help.