There is an education and employment crisis in the U.S. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student debt has increased nearly fifteen-fold since 1999 from $80 billion to over $1.2 trillion in 2013, making student loan debt the second highest form of consumer debt behind mortgages. At the same time, about 44 percent of young bachelor’s degree holders are underemployed or working jobs for which they are overqualified. And while the high school and college graduation rates for African Americans and Hispanics have improved, large disparities continue to exist. African Americans and Hispanics, who make up about one-quarter of the workforce represent 44% of the country’s high school dropouts and just 15% of its bachelor degree earners. The African American jobless rate is still twice that of whites. The workforce also continues to be stratified by race with African Americans and Hispanics grossly underrepresented in the higher-paying industry sectors. Young Americans, especially African Americans and Hispanics, are being saddled with a debt burden that could cripple their ability to achieve a sustainable economic future and it is becoming more and more evident that a bachelor’s degree alone is not enough. And while many factors contribute to this problem, Gladeo is addressing the gap between school and career. With the ever-evolving labor market in a global economy and the increasing number of college grads entering it, young people need a solid way to educate themselves about their career options and to better plan and prepare for their futures, beyond merely getting a degree. Gladeo will work to bridge the gap between school and career by addressing three areas of focus: the information gap, the network gap, and the belief gap.
First, the information gap is about how there is no effective way for young people to readily learn about careers. What careers exist? What do they really entail? And finally, how do you pursue them? Even college graduates from the most elite universities are often lost when it comes to choosing a career. Moreover, for career paths that might fall outside the realm of common awareness (e.g. doctor, lawyer, investment banker, teacher, etc), this information is even more scarce, difficult to access, and incomplete. Gladeo will address this by providing a platform that will allow anyone, anywhere to gain access to comprehensive, first-hand, current knowledge about a wide array of careers, common and untraditional. Also, because identifying one’s potential career path early on could help spur on educational ambition and school attendance, as well as help guide key decisions like choosing a secondary or post-secondary education option, obtaining a certain skill, or gaining valuable hands-on experience, Gladeo will ensure that our resources and programs reach kids early enough to make a meaningful impact on their futures.
Still for many, bridging the information gap will help, but it alone won’t be enough to bridge the divide because like we’ve all heard, “it’s not [just] about what you know, it’s about who you know.” You usually don’t need a connection to get a job in fast food or retail, but for a coveted position that offers benefits, job seekers actively use family and friend connections to gain an edge on the competition and get a foot in the door. In many cases, it’s that first entry-level opportunity that makes all the difference. The early opportunity that grants him or her the chance to escape the vicious catch-22 that so many entry-level job seekers have encountered: how am I supposed to gain experience if you won’t hire anyone without experience? Unfortunately, many underrepresented minorities, immigrant groups, as well as people of lower socioeconomic means, are less likely to have access to the kinds of social networks that might help them gain entry-level job access to certain industry sectors. Researchers say that this “network effect” is keeping some minority groups out of certain industry sectors (higher-paying ones like executive, technology, medicine) and driving them continuously into ones where they might have an existing network or ones that don’t require them (service, retail, construction). Gladeo will bridge the network gap for underrepresented minorities by helping them gain meaningful access to contacts and opportunities within industries to which they might otherwise have difficulty gaining access.
Lastly, Gladeo will address the belief gap that keeps some underrepresented minorities (whether by race, gender, socioeconomic status) from pursuing and/or thriving in certain career paths. Recent studies by the American Psychological Association have revealed that “negative stereotypes raise inhibiting doubts and high-pressure anxieties in a test-taking environment resulting in a phenomenon of ‘stereotype threat.’” They also found when they subtly altered the test-taking environment to remove stereotype threat, members of negatively stereotyped groups demonstrated dramatic improvement. Gladeo is taking this philosophy and applying it to the career world. How many African Americans or women are not pursuing careers in technology, or finance, or medicine or pursing STEM degrees because they don’t see or know anyone who looks like them doing it or because they’ve been told they’re not as capable? How many would if they were shown or told otherwise? Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg said “the success of any woman is the inspiration for another.” The challenge with non-celebrity careers is that the people and their success stories (and they do exist) are less flashy and don’t get blasted across social media, and as a result, the inspiration they could have sparked doesn’t spread. With good storytelling and an engaging media platform, Gladeo will bridge this belief gap, addressing the problem that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “the danger of the single story,” by sharing and spreading the success stories of a diverse individuals thriving in their varied careers. To see it, dream it, and believe it.