Sunday, May 17, 2015

Grooming the Future Workforce

graduated high school in 1984 and I was totally clueless.  I had absolutely no idea what to do next. My parents had always talked about college but like so many kids then, and now, I didn't have access to the information and resources I needed in order to be able to develop a practical plan. I managed to stumble through (it took me 10 1/2 years to get my Bachelors degree), but there were a lot of roadblocks. Thankfully for me, the planets were mostly aligned, over time, and I made it. 

Me, clueless in 1984
Not every kid is as lucky as I was, and many of those kids have a lot more barriers to overcome than I did. I had lots of nurturing from birth to kinder. I had a perfectly adequate K-12 educational experience. I had parents with expectations and the ability to set limits and provide structure for my upbringing. I developed a love of reading from a very young age. But even in my family unit of 5 kids and 2 parents, only I and one of my brothers graduated from college. 

So, you can imagine what a challenge it is for kids without a solid foundation to even get to college much less graduate. Big Brothers Big Sisters, a century old youth development nonprofit is addressing this challenge with a new program, begun in 2008, that combines its mentoring services with career awareness and college access enhancements.  In the Workplace Mentoring Program kids are transported 1-2 times per month from their school to the workplace where they meet with their mentors. 

"The program provides valuable workplace exposure for these kids who wouldn't otherwise get this kind of experience," says Graham Weston. Weston gave the green-light back in 2008 to Rackspace's participation as one of 2 pilot sites for the new program. "Workplace mentoring helps students connect the dots between their education and career," Weston says in this video PSA shot to promote the workplace mentoring program in 2012.

The pilot Rackspace 7th grader group
Rackspace and Chase Bank were the pilot companies that allowed employees to use their lunch hours to mentors kids, but over 40 other local companies were quick to follow the lead. 

"These kids are hungry for this kind of exposure. Being in the workplace gets their brains firing," says Steve Yates, formerly with the Chase Bank program. "The first question my Little Brother asked me when he and I met at the bank was how much money I make," Yates laughs. "That shows he's connecting the dots." 

The kids and employee volunteers usually meet as a group for the first 20 minutes of the lunch hour while they eat. Then there may be a group activity or one that pairs them off.  "We try to make sure there is some one to one time for each match at every visit," says Clare McCoy, Director of Site Based Programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters. "Kids need that individual attention, and volunteers need the bonding time."  

School administrators praise the program. Sherry Nichols, Head Counselor of Garcia Middle School in Northside ISD says, "Mentors empower students to see into the future and believe that they can achieve greatness with their mentor by their side." Garcia 6th & 7th graders are matched with mentors from NuStar Energy. 

The primary purpose of any of Big Brothers Big Sisters' programs is the development of a trusting mentoring relationship, but another important focus of the workplace mentoring program is to encourage kids to dream big and aspire to college and career. Students and volunteers work on a "post high school plan" throughout the time they are in the program.  

A Roosevelt grad with her Racker Big
The first graduates of the program were Rackspace supported kids out of Roosevelt High School last year who started out at Ed White Middle School.  Seven of the original 15 kids stayed in the program until graduation and all were college bound. 

Graduating this year are Edison High School students who will be cheered on by their "Bigs" from Linebarger Goggan Blair Sampson, LLC.  "Our team loved being involved with this workplace mentoring program with the support of BBBS. We encourage other small and medium sized businesses to join us. It empowered our staff while making an impact on kids who needed a little of our time and attention," says Carri Baker Wells, Chief Operations Officer at Linebarger. 

Students arriving at Linebarger
Big Brothers Big Sisters has a Big Vision for this program. "There's no reason why any workplace can't do this," says Julio Manso, EVP, Human Resources, who is a Big Brother in the Clear Channel Outdoor/iHeartMedia workplace mentoring program. "Over time we can help bring this program to businesses all over San Antonio," he continues. 

Christina Martinez, VP of External Relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters, thinks the program could be a statistical game changer for the community: "The metric we're going to keep an eye on is the number of adults in SA with bachelors degrees (currently 24%). We think this program can move that needle over time." 

On May 27th, Big Brothers Big Sisters will hold it's first Workplace Mentoring Luncheon Celebration Luncheon. The event will be held at the El Tropicano Hotel at noon.  Tables are being sold for $1000 and up. Individual tickets are $50.  Emceeing the event are Carri Baker Wells and Harriett Marmon Helme, Director of Client Services, Covenant. Mayor Ivy Taylor will present awards and students and mentors will speak about their experience in the program, including Bobby Perez, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & corporate Relations for of Spurs, Sports & Entertainment.   
Students at Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, Sampson, LLC.

Lackland Littles

A MetLife match

Leal Middle School
Rackspace pilot group as graduating seniors
Tesoro match birthday celebration

Me, less clueless in 1994

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