Preparing the Next Generation of Workers

with Stacy Ruff of Boys & Girls Clubs of America

The U.S. is facing a skilled worker shortage, and advocates say the solution is to invest in workforce development for the next generation.

Stacy Ruff, National Director of Teen Initiatives and Engagement at Boys & Girls Clubs of America, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss strategies to better support young people as they prepare to enter the workforce.

Posted on:

January 04, 2024

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: U.S. employers say it's getting harder to find highly skilled workers to fill job vacancies. This unprecedented labor shortage spans multiple industries, including tech, healthcare, manufacturing, and education. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. As employers struggle to find qualified candidates, it's bringing attention to the next generation of workers and the best ways to help them develop skills to thrive in an ever-evolving job market. Joining us to discuss strategies to better support young people as they prepare to enter the workforce is Stacy Ruff, National Director of Teen Initiatives and Engagement at Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Stacy, thank you so much for being here.

Ruff: Hi, Tetiana. Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So we want to get into workforce readiness. But before we get there, I want to talk about the state of young people today. What are they going through when it comes to going from youth to adulthood?

Ruff: Yeah, it is really important for us to listen to the voice of our young people, and some of the things that we continue to hear, both from our annual Youth Right Now survey as well as other stats across the country, is that young people right now are dealing with situations and issues that are very unique to their generation that include a lot of social-media pressures, mental-health issues. What we're also seeing right now is that mental health, particularly for our teen population, is actually worsening. Repeated, increased numbers in terms of sadness, in terms of anxiety, depression. And this is all during a critical time in their life when they're trying to find themselves. This is a period of time that is the second most influential in terms of life-span development. They have a lot of neurological brain development going on. This is when their identity really starts to shape and form. And so they're balancing all of these things. This is also a post-pandemic generation. But on a more positive note, what we're also finding from that survey is that more than half of our young people feel like they are confident that they have the skills to be successful in the workforce. They really do feel like their voices matter and that they can be agents of change within their communities. And also recognizing that racial issues matter to them, women's issues and justice issues matter to them.

Anderson: What are some of the tools you're giving them to bridge that gap, and how are you delivering those services?

Ruff: This is one of the most exciting things that we're really digging into in terms of life and workforce readiness for our young people and being able to set them up for the success that they will need to be life and workforce ready. We do that through a series of different programs and a programmatic framework that really allows our young people to explore and find the different things they're passionate about, the different things they might be interested in when thinking about different careers. Also being able to have opportunities to develop their skills, both those soft, transferable skills as well as the technical skills they'll need for the workforce, and then giving them real-world opportunities to practice and develop the skills they're learning and apply them.

Anderson: I know you keep track of the success of all of this by the numbers, but what about the anecdotes? What are you hearing from these young people who go through the organization, and what are they saying they're walking away with?

Ruff: One of the biggest things that we see is that this is really opening up opportunities for access for our young people. We have Boys and Girls Clubs all across the country who are opening the doors to doing actual skills-training programs. We've seen young people being able to, through our corporate partners, explore different careers in esports, explore different careers in motor sports. We've also had one young person in particular who comes to mind who just at the age of 7, started tinkering with building and finding that she was really passionate about building things and now is working as an electrical engineer with one of our corporate partners. So we're definitely seeing how it is opening the door for our young people, but more importantly, really sparking that curiosity and helping them to see how things that they're passionate about can lead to very fulfilling lifetime career opportunities for them.

Anderson: A lot of times on this show, we end these interviews with a question about a vision for when something has ended -- so, you know, ending lack of access to something. But I feel like with mentorship, it's something that should never end. What's your take? How valuable is it for a young person to connect with a trusted adult who's not in their immediate circle?

Ruff: I wholeheartedly believe that mentorship is critical, a critical piece to this puzzle. I have children myself, and I definitely understand there are some things they just won't hear or receive from me, even though somebody else might say the same thing. And so mentorship is extremely valuable. This gives people the opportunity to get their foot in the door. We know that a lot of times, what really helps to get people into the workforce is that they know somebody. And that is one thing that we know a lot of our young people don't necessarily have access to. And so really trying to build their social capital and their social network, introducing them to professional mentors who can show them the ropes, show them the pathways that they took, really show that they believe in them but also hold them accountable to doing some of the things that are gonna help them to be the most successful. I still need mentors. All of us need mentors, even into our adult years. So definitely something we want to get earlier opportunities for our young people.

Anderson: This is gonna get people talking, I'm sure. What's your website? Where can they find more information?

Ruff: Absolutely. Our website There they can find all of the information about our Youth Right Now survey, all of the programs that we have, local Boys and Girls Club locations that they can access.

Anderson: Stacy Ruff with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, thank you for being here.

Ruff: Thank you so much, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪ ♪♪

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