workforce development

Rules of Engagement for Engaging Underrepresented Youth in Workforce Development - 1 of 3

The first in a highly requested series, expert Serita Acker shares key strategies in engaging underrepresented youth in early talent recruitment.

Part 1 of 3: Reaching youth within their faith-based organizations 

By Serita Acker, internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields and skillsgapp advisor 

As someone frequently called upon to collaborate with community organizations to empower minority youth for future workforce pipelines in STEM, authenticity and integrity are paramount. Building genuine partnerships that uplift communities without exploiting their resources or beliefs is not just ethical but essential for long-term success. By meeting youth where they are, within existing centers of influence, you have the opportunity to gain wraparound support from parents and leaders who collectively want their youth to succeed.

As the first of this three-part series on rules of engaging youth, here's a guide on how to tap into faith-based organizations with a shared commitment to equity and excellence.

1. Prioritize Relationship Building:

Approach faith-based organizations with humility, respect, and a genuine desire to understand and support their mission. Take the time to build meaningful relationships with clergy, leaders, and members, actively listening to their needs, concerns, and aspirations for their youth. Attend services, events, and community gatherings to immerse yourself in their culture and values. Avoid transactional interactions or superficial engagements.

2. Align Goals and Values:

Clearly articulate how your efforts aim to empower underrepresented youth in ways that resonate with their faith principles and community priorities. Emphasize shared values such as social justice, education, and service to others. Avoid imposing external agendas or disregarding the unique cultural and religious context of the organization; instead, co-create strategies that honor their values while advancing common goals.

3. Empower Through Education and Mentorship:

Education is a powerful tool for empowerment. Offer programs and resources within your organization that promote academic excellence, critical thinking, and career exploration. Establish mentorship initiatives pairing minority youth with experienced professionals who can act as role models, offering guidance, advice, and inspiration. Ensure mentors are equipped with cultural competence and sensitivity training to effectively support the diverse needs of their mentees.

4. Foster Leadership and Entrepreneurship:

Encourage minority youth to step into leadership roles and explore entrepreneurship opportunities. Provide platforms for them to develop leadership skills, such as organizing community projects, leading discussions, or serving on committees. Offer workshops and training sessions on financial literacy, business management, and innovation. Avoid micromanaging or dismissing their ideas; instead, foster a culture that values creativity, initiative, and risk-taking. Empower youth to become agents of change within their communities and future workplaces.

5. Respect Boundaries and Autonomy:

Respect the autonomy and boundaries of the faith-based organization, recognizing that they are stewards of their community's well-being and spiritual growth. Seek permission and guidance from leadership before engaging with youth or implementing programs within their spaces. Honor cultural norms, religious practices, and privacy considerations at all times. Avoid exploiting the faith-based organization's platform or resources for personal gain or external agendas; instead, demonstrate a genuine commitment to serving their community's best interests with humility and integrity.

6. Foster Long-Term Partnerships:

Invest in building sustainable, long-term partnerships based on trust, reciprocity, and shared learning. Continuously evaluate the impact of your initiatives and adapt them based on feedback from faith leaders, youth, and other stakeholders. Commit to ongoing communication, collaboration, and accountability, ensuring that your efforts contribute to meaningful, lasting change within the community. Avoid approaching partnerships as short-term transactions or opportunities for self-promotion; instead, demonstrate a genuine commitment to walking alongside the faith-based organization in their journey of empowering minority youth for a brighter future.

In today's ever-evolving society, the role of faith-based organizations in shaping the future of minority youth cannot be overstated. These institutions serve as pillars of support, guidance, and empowerment for young individuals navigating their paths toward a meaningful and prosperous future. The journey toward the workforce can be challenging, particularly for minority youth facing systemic barriers and societal pressures, therefore nurturing them requires a delicate balance of best practices and mindful approaches. By cultivating inclusive spaces, empowering through education and mentorship, and by bridging faith with professional development, these institutions can play a transformative role in shaping your next generation of diverse leaders and changemakers.

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