Election season is here, and jobs are at the top of the agenda for most of the electorate. Members of Congress have invoked the social welfare-sounding term "job creator" to describe businesses, but many are skeptical because businesses often export or terminate more jobs than they create. On the other hand, some corporations have taken positive steps to address the skilled labor shortage that threatens to slow down American productivity and innovation.
Among those companies is Dallas-based telecommunications giant AT&T. Last month, the company announced that it was taking its educational initiative, AT&T Aspire, to another level. AT&T Aspire is designed to help students graduate from high school with career ready skills, thus helping prepare America's labor force to compete on the global front.
While all of America's youth can benefit from such a program, African American and Hispanic American students are in the greatest need of initiatives like Aspire.
According to 2011 educational attainment data from the Census Bureau, the percentage of African Americans 18 years and older with only a high school diploma was 34 percent. The percentage of Hispanics with only a high school diploma was 30.3 percent, while the percentage for White Americans was 30.5 percent.
The percentage of Black Americans whose highest educational level was a bachelor's degree was 11.8. For Hispanics that percentage was 8.9%, while the percentage of Whites was 20.5 percent.
The gap gets no better at the masters level. The percentage of Blacks capping out at this level was 4.4 percent. The percentage for Hispanics was 2.4 percent at the master's level while the percentage of White Americans with the highest attainment at the master's level was 8.1 percent.
These statistics demonstrate to us that society needs to find better ways to invest in our youth, to help create the skills and knowledge young men and women need to pursue higher education opportunities and eventually enter the job market with the background, knowledge and confidence they will need to choose a career path and be successful.
AT&T is making strides in this area. Since 2008, AT&T has invested approximately $100 million to address the problem of students dropping out of high school and focusing on developing their skills to pursue higher education and/or vocational training. The company has pledged to spend an additional $250 million as part of Aspire over the next five years. Through Aspire, students will build their knowledge base and vocational skills through game-based tools, social media, and web-based content as a way to prepare them for college and/or their future careers. AT&T plans to leverage the expertise and spirit of volunteerism of its 260,000 employees to mentor students across the nation and guide them through a wealth of internship opportunities.
A specific highlight of Aspire is its Job Shadow program, which links AT&T employees with students. The employees act as mentors, sharing life skills while exploring real-life business problems. The Job Shadow Initiative will be part of the Aspire Mentoring Academy and starts this coming fall.
"AT&T Aspire works toward an America where every student graduates high school equipped with the knowledge and skills to strengthen the nation's workforce," AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said while announcing the extended commitment during a keynote address at the second annual Building a GradNation Summit on March 19th.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has thrown the support of his America's Promise Alliance behind AT&T Aspire, stating that the Alliance "was founded on the belief that young people must be our nation's greatest priority. Helping youth achieve their full potential is not just good for our country, it's good for business. AT&T understands this and is demonstrating that through its Aspire program."
Politic365′s Jeff Johnson, who spoke at an Aspire event in Washington, DC on March 28, remarked that it's "incredibly important any time young people are connected to a corporation to get a sense of the world around them and the options available to them. Furthermore, it's important that AT&T has these types of programs because the technology available to them will empower instead of entertain these young people, which is what AT&T is doing." Johnson was joined by Derrick Ashong for an informal discussion about education, careers and success.
Aspire is a model national education/vocational program that is making a tremendous difference to youth in minority communities across the country. As a nation, improving the education and jobs skills of our youth through programs like Aspire will go a long way toward turning this promising future into tomorrow's reality for America's youth.
"Today, I personally witnessed how AT&T's commitment to education can transform lives, said Claudia Jones, AT&T Vice President – Media Relations. "The students heard about all the different career options available to them when they persevere and stay in school. Most of all, they learned some powerful life lessons from Derrick Ashong and Jeff Johnson. I'd like to think that in a small way we made a difference in the lives of thirty-two high school students today."