For the college graduates of 2020, Covid-19 has disrupted dreams and shifted plans. But what about the millions of college students who dropped out this year before earning a diploma? Or others who graduated saddled with debt only to be underemployed in their first job? These students, many of whom are people of color, faced enormous challenges even before the pandemic.
Traditionally, job candidates with a college degree have been expected to launch their careers shortly after earning a diploma. But in his 2016 book There Is Life After College, writer and researcher Jeffrey Selingo found that only one-third of today’s graduates jump into careers or start down a path that will lead to “success” in the working world right after graduation. He refers to this group as “Sprinters.” Others, whom he calls “Wanderers” and “Stragglers,” have less linear paths.
What separates “Sprinters” from others are largely the opportunities to which they had access during their undergraduate programs. Eighty percent of the graduates in this group had at least one internship, 64% committed to a major without changing it, and 43% had less than $10,000 in student loan debt. Selingo concludes that these opportunities can spell the difference between when — and whether — a college graduate has access to a stable career path.
Such opportunities are much less available to people of color. Race remains a key factor in job attainment even for graduates who finish their college degrees. According to 2013 data, Black graduates aged 22 to 27 were two times more likely to be unemployed, a clear indication that discrimination remains a major problem in the labor market.
To make matters worse, about six in 10 students invest time and money in pursuing a degree they never finish. These students often wind up worse off than if they’d never set foot on campus in the first place. In fact, as recent as 2017, one study showed that only about five in 10 Black and Hispanic students who started in a four-year public institution completed their degrees within a six-year period, compared to about seven in 10 white and Asian students.
As we engage in conversations about recovery and reopening during the pandemic, many higher education institutions and employers are being forced to rethink long-standing practices that have resulted in Covid-19 having a disproportionate impact on youth of color. Many of these practices are entrenched in historical economic and environmental inequities born out of systemic racism. Now is the time for us to interrogate the pathways that ultimately distinguish a “Sprinter” from a “Wanderer” and to build equitable systems that meet the needs of all young people.
How can employers start?
First, more must be done to reach students earlier in their academic careers to help them tap into job exploration, skills building, and professional development.
One of the most effective and proactive steps employers can take is to expand quality internships for young people of color. No online training module or YouTube video can replace the learning that takes place when a young person interacts with professionals in their industry of interest. Just as companies are increasingly sharing the diversity numbers of their full-time employees, they need to examine the demographics of their internship cohorts and establish diversity goals. Offering compensated career exposure through onsite and remote experiences can ensure that students have information about their options early on.
In addition to internship programs, industry and skills-specific programs are partnering with businesses to provide students of color with effective learning opportunities. CodePath.org, for instance, is an organization that works with major employers, including Facebook and Google, to create open-source computer science courses that are targeted specifically to underrepresented students and can be taught on any campus. The courses are aligned to the tech industry’s fastest-growing specialties, like cybersecurity and mobile app development, and they are nimble enough to evolve with frequent technological changes. Within one year of completing a course, 85% of Black and Latinx CodePath.org alumni landed tech jobs at companies such as Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft, and others.
This is a good start when companies are deciding where to place their efforts. But employers must also take into account that many youth of color who need these types of programs do not have access to them due to the digital divide. Low-income and rural communities in particular often lack access to high-speed internet and effective access to technology. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have increasingly voiced concerns about their student populations’ lack of access to the connectivity and infrastructure needed to effectively participate in online learning.
The good news is that businesses can also work to create change here. One option that has proved effective is partnering and supporting organizations already doing this hard work with success. Rheaply, for example, is a climate tech company that combines a resource-sharing network with a user-friendly asset management platform that allows corporations to donate laptops to students and communities in need. In another effort, Kapor Capital’s SMASH — a program that provides students of color with intensive STEM education, culturally relevant coursework, and access to resources and social capital — recently announced support for an initiative to donate 5,000 computers and internet access to college-age students who have been impacted by Covid-19 and are learning to code. Both these organizations can serve as examples for businesses looking to make a positive impact.
Similar partnerships can be made at the hiring level. Several organizations are already working with employers to create more equitable opportunities for recent grads of color. Braven, for example, works with businesses and universities alike to launch students into “strong first jobs,” empowering young people to lead within the companies and organizations they join following graduation.
Braven partners with large public universities to build career education into the undergraduate experience through a credit bearing course fueled by volunteers from the professional workforce. It provides first generation college students and students of color, who often feel disconnected from campus, with a network of supporters to build a sense of belonging, and it works within and across universities to foster a generation of diverse leaders. According to Braven’s 2018-2019 impact report, their “300 graduates between 2016-2018 have outpaced their peers nationally in strong job attainment by 23 percentage points (69% vs 46%) within six months of graduation.” These types of programs empower young people to learn more about career opportunities while offering talent solutions within companies.
Businesses that want to be proactive about reaching local talent can also take a look at the 538 workforce boards and 1,600 job centers across the country, where many urban youth go to look for jobs in their immediate communities. Such resources represent a huge opportunity for employers not only to be good corporate neighbors but also to invest in burgeoning talent in their backyards.
When it comes to actual hiring practices, separate efforts must put into place to ensure that graduates of color can thrive in a post-Covid world. Human Resource departments and hiring managers need to challenge the notion that talent comes only from certain institutions or that particular achievements serve as a proxy for success. Research has shown that diverse teams result in greater innovation and, therefore, we can assume, better financial performance. For businesses to put this finding into practice, they cannot continue to hire based on the myth that only those who attend elite institutions during their formative years are eligible for entry-level positions. Instead, they must expand where they look for talent — which should be everywhere.
To begin, companies should screen resumes without names and schools and use clear rubrics. Organizations like Deloitte, HSBC, and the BBC have begun using this method of blind recruitment, removing name, age, education, and other indicators that might unintentionally introduce bias into the hiring process. The goal should be for organizations to align their hiring rubrics, screening questions, and tests with the skills needed in a specific position rather than using degrees from elite institutions or references from people they know as proxies. While networks still remain critical to getting a job, many young people of color and first-generation college students lack access to the most influential networks. Organizations like America Needs You and Beyond 12 are intentionally closing the college access and network gaps so that even those who traditionally have been disconnected can make the valuable connections they need.
Once a candidate is being considered for a role, managers should pose the same questions to each applicant and ask them to perform tasks similar to those required for the position in order to test their skill sets accurately. In this way, managers can start to remove biases that often favor those with a fancy resume or an Ivy League education.
Examples of organizations that are working with businesses to help create this kind of change include The Equity Lab and 228 Accelerator. Both are aiming to help companies reimagine their HR practices, training routines, and other systems to support diverse talent and challenge bias.
Students from Black-led organizations and HBCUs, and students of color throughout the United States, are the talent that industries are overlooking. These are the people who could have filled the more than seven million jobs that were vacant before Covid-19. Employers who want to thrive during and after this pandemic need to be more intentional about finding them. This means working with organizations that can help them do so, and actively creating opportunities to help these students succeed.
If young people of color continue to be overburdened with debt and are not provided with a fair chance to gain the skills they need to pursue their interests, companies and communities will lose out on their talent, passions, and contributions. Supporting young people and their aspirations can build the inclusive economy that our nation needs.
This content was originally published here.