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JA of Alaska Builds Workforce Foundations

by Jan 22, 2024Magazine, Nonprofits

Sukmaraga | Envato

Alaska is not alone in the workforce shortage. The US economy continues to experience the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing global tensions. In the workplace, The Great Resignation has put an even greater strain on employers who were struggling to find qualified workers before the pandemic. The pandemic also exacerbated the existing “skills gap” many industries were already facing. Countless trained and experienced Baby Boomers retired during the pandemic.

Though it remains to be seen how the pandemic impacts the careers and finances of Generation Z and [school-aged and younger] Generation Alpha, some things can be done now to help them better manage the transition from school to work to life beyond in the coming years. Junior Achievement (JA) can help young Alaskans become better prepared adults and build a foundation for Alaska’s workforce.

JA programs are designed to engage students on the subject from their first day in kindergarten to their K-12 years… because, in many states, career and work readiness aren’t addressed until later high school grades, which may come too late for students who haven’t given the subject much consideration in earlier grades.

The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting

There are many structural reasons people are quitting their jobs, including pay, benefits, feeling underappreciated, and more. But these reasons existed before the pandemic, and people were not changing jobs at historic rates like they are now.

One underlying cause could be a lack of a sense of purpose in work. In fact, research by consulting firm Gartner shows that the pandemic caused nearly two-thirds of Americans to reconsider the importance of “purpose” in their personal and professional lives.

Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that only 27 percent of college graduates work in a field they studied in school. Additionally, a study by MidAmerica Nazarene University found that just 25 percent of Americans were in their “dream career.”

A few conclusions can be drawn from these statistics. First, there continues to be an inherent disconnect between education, higher education, and preparation for a job or career. While some could make the case that the goal of education and higher education isn’t primarily to prepare young people for work, recent research shows that 86 percent of Americans believe that a college degree can help advance a recipient’s career.

A second conclusion is that while not everyone can be expected to be in their “dream career,” employee satisfaction is key to retention. Employees who feel they are doing what they intended to do for a living and utilizing their talents and skills to support their interests are more likely to find purpose and satisfaction at work.

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June 2024

A Pathway to Purpose

JA works with partners in education and the business community to help ensure young people make more informed choices that lead to greater work and career satisfaction as adults. JA employs a “pathways” approach to teaching career and work readiness to young people. By pathways, we mean that JA programs are designed to engage students on the subject from their first day in kindergarten to their K-12 years.

JA takes this approach because, in many states, career and work readiness aren’t addressed until later high school grades, which may come too late for students who haven’t given the subject much consideration in earlier grades.

JA’s proven programs are shown to inspire and prepare young people for success. Our approach is demonstrated to give students the tools they need to increase their chances of achieving their potential in work, career, and life. According to a recent survey by research firm Ipsos:

  • 73 percent of JA alumni who graduated college say they work in a field they studied in college. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows only 27 percent of college graduates say the same.
  • 69 percent of JA alumni say they work in their “dream career.” Only 25 percent of Americans say the same, according to MidAmerica Nazarene University.
  • 80 percent of JA alumni say their careers are “extremely fulfilling.”

The Other Literacy

Nearly one-third of Americans (29 percent) say they lack savings to cover one month’s expenses. With inflation near a forty-year high, 56 percent of Americans report that rising prices are causing financial hardship. Even before recent cost increases, 40 percent of Americans said they struggled to pay for healthcare and food, including households making more than $50,000 a year.

While real earnings have remained flat or declined for many US workers in recent years, even those considered high-income earners have struggled to pay bills, save for retirement, and prepare for financial emergencies, according to a report by NPR.

At JA, we view financial literacy as “the other literacy.” Just like reading or writing, we all deal with money on a near-daily basis. Yet too often, financial literacy programs consist only of a one-semester elective course in middle or high school that skims the surface of basic concepts. Nobody would be expected to read a book or write a term paper after one semester of lessons on reading or writing, yet that’s essentially what happens with financial literacy education.

JA’s pathways approach gives students the tools to increase their chances of achieving economic security as adults. Research results bear that out:

  • 82 percent of JA alumni agree they have a strong financial footing.
  • 68 percent of JA alumni between the ages of 18 and 29 say they are financially independent of their parents. According to the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of Americans in that age range say the same.
  • The average age at which JA alumni report paying off student loans is 30.
  • JA alumni report purchasing their first home at 29. The National Association of Realtors reports the average age Americans purchase their first home is 33.

We at JA believe it’s important to offer programs that cover entrepreneurship and small business across multiple grade levels… Our approach gives students the tools to increase their chances of starting or owning a business as adults.

An Entrepreneurial Awakening

One of the surprising outcomes of the pandemic’s impact on the economy is the surge in new business creation. In fact, the rebound in entrepreneurial activity disrupted nearly forty years of lackluster small business growth, which had only worsened following the Great Recession of 2008.

The causes for this increase in new business creation are many. For instance, research by Intuit shows that “The Great Resignation” is fueling the boom in small business as more Americans leave their jobs and careers and strike out on their own. The next generation also feels this sentiment, with research by JA and investment and insurance firm The Hartford showing that 60 percent of teens would prefer to start a business over having a traditional job.

However, while the interest and intent are there, starting a business is still risky. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five businesses fail in the first year, and nearly half fail by the five-year mark. This leads to the question, “What can be done to increase the odds of success for startups?”

According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of successful first-time entrepreneurs is 45. However, as the Harvard Business Review points out, venture capital funds tend to put their resources behind startup founders in their late 20s or early 30s. Ironically, the reason most startups fail is related directly or indirectly to lack of experience, including launching a product or service where there is no market need, running out of cash, not having the right team, cost and pricing issues, and not having a business model. This points to the fact that—given the proper information, tools, and guidance—young entrepreneurs can increase their chances of success with their business endeavors.

Filling the Knowledge and Experience Gaps

Given that most of us will work for a small business at some time, and all of us interact with small businesses, we at JA believe it’s important to offer programs that cover entrepreneurship and small business across multiple grade levels.

Our approach gives students the tools to increase their chances of starting or owning a business as adults. Research demonstrates the results:

  • 51 percent of JA alumni say they have started or owned a business.
  • 36 percent of JA alumni say that JA positively influenced their perception of business owners or community leaders.
  • 27 percent of JA alumni say they employ 100 or more people. The US Census Bureau reports only 1.7 percent of US small businesses say the same.

To learn more about Junior Achievement, visit www.JA.org. If you want to get involved in Alaska, contact me at fteo@ja-alaska.org.

Flora Teo is president of Junior Achievement of Alaska.

 

Too often, financial literacy programs consist only of a one-semester elective course in middle or high school that skims the surface of basic concepts.

Alaska Business June 2024 cover
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Welcome to the June 2024 issue, which features our annual Transportation Special Section. We've paired it this year with a focus on the Pacific Northwest and Hawai'i, as Alaska has close ties to both that reach far beyond lines of transportation. Even further out past our Pacific Ocean compatriots and our Canadian neighbors to the east, Alaska's reach extends to India and Singapore. Enjoy this issue that explores many of Alaska's far-flung business dealings.
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