By Kathleen McDonnell, Program Manager, Jobs for America’s Graduates
How do you define success? Reaching a goal? Breaking a record?
At Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), we define success as consistency. For the past 36 years, JAG has consistently achieved 90% graduation rates for one of the most challenged populations of students, those who face multiple barriers to high school graduation. This year, not only did JAG reach its graduation goal across our national network, but we also set a new record of achieving our “5 of 5” award for the first time on the national level. “5 of 5” is given to programs that reach high standards for graduation, post-graduation employment, and post-secondary educational enrollment. JAG has collected performance outcomes for our national network of affiliates at the close of each 12-month follow-up period (a full year after students graduate from high school) and, since 1981, the JAG model has ensured that high risk high school students receive the support needed to turn their academics and career pathways toward success.
Now more than ever, the U.S. needs to see these types of successful outcomes for our young people who face tremendous challenges in workforce entry over the next several years. Economists predict by 2020, 65% of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. By comparison, in 1973, workers with postsecondary education held only 28% of all jobs. JAG is addressing the rapidly changing landscape of the labor market by preparing students who have multiple barriers to entry. In addition to supporting students every step of the way, JAG also helps students understand what types of careers are – and will be – available upon graduation and the credentials necessary to fulfill those jobs. It is well-known that a high school diploma does not translate to the same earning power it did 40 years ago, which is why our 12 months of follow-up after walking across that stage is so vital to our students’ success.
In order to prepare our students for successful employment, it is imperative for educators to align the skills employers need with what is being taught inside the classroom. Skills like public speaking, collaboration and critical thinking are embedded into the JAG curriculum through a variety of team building, community service and JAG Career Association (our student led organization) activities. JAG Specialists, who work with the students every day in the classroom, are responsible for reinforcing the employability skills students delivered through the JAG Employability Skills Curriculum by connecting students with professionals in the community. A key pillar of the JAG model is employer engagement: bringing students onto employer sites or inviting employers into the classroom. In this respect, the JAG Specialist acts as a career counselor by not only helping students understand the importance of graduating high school and exposing them to the professional world, but also seeking opportunities for job training and professional education that are aligned with the students’ passions and skills.
The JAG model proves that those students who face tremendous barriers to graduation are not only capable of finishing high school, but are a vital source of talent for employers. Any student can find success in the job market if they are properly trained, have the right skills and have a person in their lives who can help them map out a plan for success. This is what JAG has done for 1 million students over 36 years, and we will continue to do so for many years to come!