For several years, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Caleb, a young man in a high school group which I helped lead. Over the years, I’ve seen him succeed in getting his high school diploma and begin to navigate the difficult transition to adulthood. At 18 years old, he moved out from his parents’ covering with no job and no clear direction of what to do next. The coming months in his life came with multiple challenges, including a job search that seemed to go nowhere.
As an adult role mode in Caleb’s life, it was tough to pin down what his barrier to gaining employment was in order to help him. He isn’t a slacker, and he does all he can to serve others. As I pondered his job search, one idea came to mind: perhaps his barrier is that he can’t confidently say how he could benefit an employer. Perhaps, his humility was treading dangerously close to insecurity.
So one night, I pulled Caleb into the kitchen to talk about it. As we settled in at the table, I asked him if he could do something for me. With his slight nod of permission, I said, “Tell me what makes you amazing.” I could see the struggle in his eyes as he hesitantly shared about himself. But when he began talking about his strong work ethic, video game mastery and good listening skills, I took a moment to affirm each statement as he made it, helping him not only identify the skill, but also its significance.
An unspoken skill in job searching is the ability to persevere through awkward moments. As most can testify, everyone’s first job search is filled with awkward moments. From meeting new people and handing in applications, to having all eyes on you during an interview, any one of these steps can derail a young person’s job search if they don’t receive necessary encouragement along the way. Encouragement helps transform these difficult steps into constructive, character building experiences. While Caleb’s job search difficulties were normal, how much more difficult is it for our foster youth to launch a job search successfully? Foster teens who often lack stability and family support, and most often are dealing with the impact of trauma in their lives, find it not only daunting to actually secure a job, but lack the skills and support needed to even know where to start the search!
After over 28 years of supporting our foster youth’s efforts to transition from care to adult independence, FCNI understands how vital opportunities to build our youth’s job readiness, skills and confidence can be to helping them persevere during job searches and career planning. With this in mind, we recently partnered with the Community Foundation of SLO County and SLO County’s Department of Social Services to create the new Youth Employability Program (YEP).
Through YEP, we help inspire foster youth in their career development by matching them with Career Mentors from our community. Interested youth can meet with an adult working in their job field of interest for one-hour meetings to gain a better grasp of their career path or they can develop a more extensive mentor relationship with a professional adult who devotes more time to helping the youth shape their career path through ongoing encouragement and support. Both our Short- and Long-Term Career Mentors provide important opportunities for our youth to explore different career options, as well as directly contribute to building up their confidence. As a Career Mentor, you won’t just help them get a job, you’ll help them pursue their dreams.
Getting back to my awkward conversation with Caleb for a minute. Though it was hard for him to tell me what makes him amazing, he acknowledged the value of getting through that challenging moment. And the following week, Caleb’s year-long job search ended when he was hired at a local restaurant. Now, I can’t say for certain that our interaction made the difference for him, but it’s nice to see Caleb walk with his head held a little higher now that he’s successfully making his transition to independence with a job. I will be forever grateful for the time I invested in Caleb, knowing that a little effort on my part certainly went a long way towards making a difference to him—and therefore, to me as well.
One hour of your life can change a young adult’s life, and could even change your own.