The Future of Work is Looking Bright

By Kaylan

“What would you say are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”

“Tell me about a time you had to solve a problem.”

“Tell me about a time something didn’t go as planned.”

Sound familiar? These classic interview questions can make the most experienced adults sweat. In the past month I have posed these questions and more to a few dozen high school and college students as part of mock interviews with Emerging Leaders, and Portland Workforce Alliance via the NW Youth Career Expo. Time after time, the students stayed cool as a cucumber:

“I would say that I get really excited about projects but then overcommit…”

“Well, last year I was working on this article in my journalism class and I couldn’t get in touch with my main source …”

“Oh I was in this group project and one of my classmates didn’t finish his part…”

Emerging Leaders’ mission is to create a new “normal” for the Greater Portland area by engaging local business leaders to provide opportunities and pathways to leadership for students of color, and we have had the privilege of participating with the Emerging Leaders Internship program the past three years (check out our past blogs about it here, here, and here). An annual Mock Interview day brings together about 200 volunteers and more than 400 students to prepare for upcoming internship interviews by working in groups and delivering real-time constructive feedback to students about their interview answers and resumes.

It was ThinkShout’s first time participating in the NW Youth Career Expo, as part of a coalition with about 20 other local tech companies under the umbrella of TechTownPDX. The Expo brings in more than 7,000 students from about 70 high schools across Oregon and Southwest Washington, giving priority registration to students from Portland Public Schools, Parkrose, and North Clackamas; high schools representing a diversity of rural, urban and suburban communities in Oregon and SW Washington; and organizations and schools serving under-represented populations of high school students – all with the goal of giving more students access to info about high paying jobs and career coaching.

Kaylan and Kevin at the career Expo

Kaylan and Kevin representing ThinkShout at the NW Youth Career Expo

I used to attend career fairs constantly in a previous life as an outside recruiter, but these events felt really special. I walked away from both feeling so much optimism about the future of our workforce. I also walked away feeling sure of three things regarding tomorrow’s teammates:

  • Today’s students are eager. For both events, I was told that I shouldn’t hold back, that these students rarely get time with professionals in the field and that giving real constructive feedback was important. I was a little concerned about providing forced feedback within a 10 minute window without a prior relationship, but I quickly found that I didn’t need to worry about it. The students I met with were indeed hungry for feedback, but also encouragement. They are excited to get out of school and into the “real” world, and they are looking for help connecting the dots between how their school experiences are helping prepare them for that world. It can be hard to see the forest through the trees at any age, and having a guide, even for a short time like in these settings, can go a long way.

  • Today’s students are looking for more. For generations, kids have been given information about a handful of career options: doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. – and many of the “options” have been traditionally gendered and limiting. One of the aims with ELI and the Expo is to show students that there are infinite career paths available to them – that they can get a high paying job and not work in an office, that they can start in one place and not stay there forever, or even that they can work in the tech sector and not ever write a line of code. I love supporting this narrative by both sharing my own winding career path, and by encouraging students to start by evaluating their strengths and soft skills, and then letting curiosity guide them to natural fits; creativity and perseverance are essential while career-exploring.

  • Today’s students are not afraid to press adults on critical issues. During the Expo, one high school student was asking me some great questions about the TechTown pledge – What are the numbers behind our efforts to increase diversity and inclusion? What are the results? I admittedly floundered as I tried to provide meaningful answers without having the actual data on-hand, but I am grateful; it was such an important exercise and it made me even more committed to showing up in this space. In case she reads this, here is a link to the recent survey data reports, along with goals for 2019 – the short story is that while some progress has been made over the past few years, we have a long way to go. Our best work and strongest impact will only come when we are continually attracting and retaining diverse talent to make up our teams. Period.

The future of work is looking real bright. Can’t wait to introduce you to our interns in a few months!