HALE: Expand program shown to help struggling kids

March 11, 2017

There are no such things as soft skills when it comes to employment. The value of a strong work ethic, the ability to communicate, showing up on time, respect for others—without these core competencies, success on the job is impossible.

All too often, we worry about and invest the most in our best and brightest, those kids who will likely make it in life as they have the solid support of family and the comfort of economic security. Security that often allows even a few false starts before landing on a solid career path.

And then there is everybody else.

About 10 years ago, Indiana started doing something right. Something that significantly lifts up kids who otherwise might very well fall through the cracks. Kids who might have the intellectual ability to succeed, but lack these kinds of critical skills.

In 2006, Indiana implemented a program that has now helped more than 17,000 Hoosier students stay in school through graduation, pursue post-secondary education, and secure quality jobs leading to career advancement.

This month in Indiana, Jobs for Americas Graduates is celebrating some remarkable accomplishments.

In just the past year, more than 7,000 students participated in JAG through 110 programs around the state. JAG is in more than 90 schools throughout Indiana, making Indiana’s JAG program the largest in the nation.

Students are taught competencies such as critical thinking, team leadership and communication skills, enhancing their ability to land and keep jobs. They grow to be not only employable, but promotable. That can be everything to a young person about to start a family.

Part of the success comes down to intensive mentoring—including a year-long, follow-up period—resulting in class graduation rates in the 90th percentile.

Rather than gassing on and on about attracting talent to Indiana, the opportunity before us is to better cultivate and support the talent we already have.

In the past year, I have spoken with employers all around our state. Employers that have open positions that pay well but find nobody qualified to fill them. Nobody who can pass a drug test, show up on time, or follow through with commitments.

Over the coming years, economic forecasters have made a clear case that we will need more of our young people prepared to take on these opportunities. In fact, we need more now.

It is also clear that there are many more young people around our state who would benefit from this program.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that nearly 70 percent of people in state correctional facilities have not completed high school and 14 percent have had no high school education whatsoever.

We know how to develop kids coming fromchallenging situations into successful adult earners.

Helping people thrive in the face of such challenges is key to developing the human capital Indiana needs to offer employers today, but, more important, as technology advances and jobs change accordingly, tomorrow.

Everyone agrees with Kevin Brinegar, CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. In our state, at this time, to walk away from high school without a degree is nothing short of an economic death sentence.

You might not wind up in prison, but far, far too many do. You might not grow to depend on government aid, but far, far too many do.

The evidence is clear: JAG is working here in Indiana. Even with all of the potential in the world, sometimes kids need this kind of help. And when we ensure that more of our young talent finds it, everyone wins.•

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