Editor’s Note: Hillsides Youth Moving On Program provides workforce development services to 325 current and former foster youth annually. The cornerstone of these services is the Los Angeles TAY Collaborative job training curriculum created by Columbia University in New York, which covers the hard and soft skills youth need to not only land a job but to maintain it, and take steps toward their career goals.
By Aurelio Mitjans
When it comes to job hunting folks always talk about the usual: resumes, clothing, eye contact, smile, handshakes, etc. These are all important. However, job seekers tend to forget about one piece that’s just as important as that tie or those shoes: attitude. The right attitude.
At Youth Moving On, we have conversations about employment every day. Some youth won’t apply for a job if it pays less than $20 an hour, even if they don’t have stable housing or a degree. Others are waiting for the perfect job to land in their lap. Some expect their first job to be their dream job. Some expect to win the lottery. I could go on and on.
We’re not in the dream-crushing business over here, but at some point real conversations need to be had. Training wheels need to come off eventually, because the real world is out there waiting to show everyone how much it doesn’t care. Obviously everyone is at different stages in life, but if we don’t do our best to prepare youth for their next phase of life, we have failed.
Being at YMO puts us in a unique position to have really honest interaction in this area, because all of our clients are at least old enough to work. We can take concrete steps toward employment goals right now.
My advice to youth, and anyone helping youth find jobs, is for young adults to use these four words like a crown, cape, sword and shield: hungry, humble, helpful and honest.
Be Hungry – Are you willing to work?
Is the youth ready to do what it takes to go and get a job? Simple things can be challenges, such as turning off the video games and logging off. If a young adult has a dream career like being a doctor, are they aware of the possibility of an extra decade of school after high school? Whether it’s a part-time job or dream career, time can be a big turnoff for youth. It’s one thing for youth to identify a career they want to dedicate their professional lives to. It’s another thing for them to actually begin taking steps in that direction. Let them know that if it’s worth it, it’s usually challenging.
Be Humble – Are you too good to do this?
Every now and then youth will complain about having to do something that is not in their job description, to which we typically volley back that their job description is to do what their boss asks of them if it’s in their skill set unless it’s illegal, immoral or life-threatening. Youth need to understand that they need to earn that paycheck. If they’re too good to clean the bathroom or stand on the corner holding a sign, there is a stack of applications from people who will, and they can be called in for an interview today.
Be Helpful – Are you ready to be a servant?
This one is simple. Every employee’s job is to make everyone’s life easier including clients, coworkers and the boss. People should think about what they can do for their employer, not the other way around. Be a servant. Doing this will make one golden.
Be Honest (with everyone including yourself) – Are you just talking the talk?
I think this pairs well with the maxim, be hungry. Just today we spoke with a youth who said he was ready to get serious about employment. We mentioned that we had a Career Club going on tonight (where youth learn workplace skills) and he could join and end up with a paid internship in a few weeks. He began stuttering and ran faster than Usain Bolt in the opposite direction. I believe that particular youth said he was ready to get serious about employment, because he felt that it was something we wanted to hear. We did want to hear it but not just for the sake of hearing it. Honesty goes a long way, which is why we encourage youth to be honest with themselves before anything. Lip service is a common occurrence.
We at Hillsides do a great job of understanding that everyone is a work in progress. We walk a thin tightrope between making youth feel confident on our watch while preparing them for what’s out there. For all of us out there helping youth, it’s a good reminder for us to stay hungry, humble, helpful and honest. The youth are watching us, so continue to be a good example.
Aurelio Mitjans is the program manager of Youth Moving On’s Peer Resource Center (PRC). He holds a bachelor degree in journalism from Florida A&M University and an MBA from Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. He also teaches career development workshops as part of the LA TAY Collaborative and the LA Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC) and conducts a life skills workshop at Pasadena City College and Hillsides Education Center.