By Patty Alper
For Mastery Academics

When GE polled business executives from 25 countries at their Global Innovation Barometer meeting, the biggest concern was a need to better align the education systemteach to work with business needs. In addition, a recent Gallup study, Great Lives Great Jobs, asked business leaders a series of similar questions regarding preparedness of students for future employment. The response was clear and speaks volumes to our schools. According to the business leaders, we are failing to provide recent graduates with the requisite skills. In fact, only 11% of business executives agreed that college graduates have the skills their workplace needs. Yet in striking contrast, 96% of chief academic officers at colleges and universities stated they believed their institution was effective at preparing students for employment.

Whether perceived or real, this is a striking and concerning disparity. How did we arrive at this disparity? And what can be done?

Today, our young adults must learn the skills of survival in the 21st century. And those skills have changed and continue to change at a record pace. To thrive, students must learn the skills that are desirable to today’s corporate world or face the prospect of never gaining financial and social maturity.

How can you make sure your student is prepared for the fast-paced career of the future? I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children today is positive adult influences. They need people in their lives that they can trust, and with whom they can share their feelings. Not only will this help them navigate these emotionally challenging times, it will also provide more opportunities for those adolescents to succeed as adults. But let’s be more specific. How can we be positive adult influences?

Create a Safe Space

First, I suggest the same advice I have for all mentoring relationships: create a safe space. Especially in today’s toxic, judgmental, and digitally focused environment, our youth need to witness that ideas can be openly discussed without fear of harsh criticism. When a parent presents that environment at home – where there is empathy and active listening (not just the obligatory “uh huh” while we continue with what we are doing) – that parent offers something that will have a lasting impact: a judgment-free zone where creativity and idea-generation can flourish. Once your adolescent realizes that his ideas can be welcomed and even cherished, the bridles are off, and you have effectively “freed” his mind to explore what else he can dream and accomplish.

Encourage a Project, and Put Your Young Adult in Charge

In my book, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America, I describe in detail what I call “Project Based Mentoring.” The model stems from Project Based Learning theories, but adds a skilled mentor to support the student and project. Through the project, two different generations are given something to “do” together, and the project is both educational and transformative. The project is frequently based on tackling realistic problems with real-world application.

Importantly, however, there are important guidelines for that relationship. It is the student who is the idea generator, the responsible party, and the driver of the activity and its execution. You have to allow your student to take the reins and make his own mistakes. And ultimately, the student should have decision-making power. Together, the mentor/parent and mentee/student share a mutual goal of planning the project framework within a timeline to achieve successful completion. The project and the relationship mimic workplace assignments and intergenerational (and often cross-cultural) work relationships.

I encourage you to try this at home, and seek programs where your students could also find a mentor at school. You will be building the confidence of your young adult, and preparing him for a successful future.

Patty Alper is author of “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can ClosePatty Alper the Skills Gap in America.” Alper is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. She has also been appointed to the corporate committee for Million Women Mentors. Patty’s 35-year career in business, coupled with two decades of hands-on experience working directly with youth, uniquely qualifies her to understand the growing skills gap from both perspectives: the employers who seek to build a pipeline and hire better-prepared youth for 21st century jobs, and the youth who are often ill-equipped or ill-trained to enter the new workforce.

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