How to Recruit Youth Today

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Youth have many choices to make today.

Let’s say that you’re 18 years old. You left school before graduating, and your friend’s mom is letting you stay in their garage.

You have many choices, and they’re stacked like this:

  • Apply for jobs
  • Break into a car to steal something
  • See if your old girlfriend wants to have sex

What’s going through your mind right now?

Curiosity floods your brain. Even if you’re not sure you can get a job, you know its something you should do, compared to stealing something or having sex. You know what the right thing to do is, but you’re not sure why this job application would be different from any others.

If you truly wanted immediate satisfaction, you’d find an easy car to break into, right? Or you’d give that girlfriend a call. You wouldn’t even take a glance at the job form.

But that’s not how we are built when we are young people.

Years ago, I consulted with an organization that taught youth adult living skills for students who dropped out of high school. They would take high risk (high hope) youth around local colleges and show them three types of programs: One offered job training and job placement; another offered a GED, job training and placement; and another that helped them earn a diploma, get into college, through college and placed in a career. And then they were asked if they were interested in the college program.

You bet they were. You would be, and so would I—we’d all be curious about what allowed people to get into and through college if we never knew it.

Youth choose your program in a vacuum or by comparison

Simply opening a youth program doesn’t make youth attend it. We’re clear on that, right?

That’s because youth choose your program in a vacuum or by comparison.

Let’s look at choosing youth programs in a vacuum.

Say a teenager decides to smoke weed in her free time. She’s been taught about the dangers of drugs, has a stable home with two parents and has a bright future ahead of her.

She’s not asking why at this point in time, because she has a of joint in her hand given to her by her best friend who is sitting right across from her, so she’s making a decision in a vacuum.

The same vacuum concept applies to your youth program, too.

Let’s say you’re passionate about using theater to empower youth. You launched an afterschool drama program for teens in your neighborhood that lasts two hours every night, and youth aren’t showing up.

Sure, they looked at the flyers you posted around the neighborhood and sent home to parents. If they talk to you, you’re incredibly exciting.

When you pour over your grant application and promotional materials, everything screams for youth to come through the door, and yet they aren’t. They are working in a vacuum.

However, when youth look at your program flyer, they see the date and time and think of all the other things they could do, even if we don’t acknowledge those things. Youth who sit on the couch watching TV are choosing that, as are youth who spend hours surfing the Internet with no purpose.

Would you have more youth showing up if they could playing video games? Theoretically speaking, yes. So why not add video game time? Or better yet, offer video games and offer pizza every day? Would you have more youth show up then?

You see what’s happening here, don’t you? As the frivolous things increase, your desire for the program goes down. That’s because you’re no longer working in a vacuum – you’re working on comparison.

You’re comparing your original program focused on theater with every other activity that was added onto it. And you compared your interest in theater to your interest in video games and pizza.

Right now, if you’re still determined, you’ll not only focus on theater, but you might even choose a specific style of theater you’re passionate about, like street performing or children’s theater.

But there’s a reason for that, and its called—and it’s called comparison.

Two distinct choosing phases

When young people choose anything, they’re almost always going through two distinct phases. The first phase is when they consider choices in a vacuum. Youth have been told to go to a program by their mom or teacher, but they have no clue why they should attend.

With all these options staring at them, young people simply pick the most immediate thing that fulfills their needs.

Using the ever-popular Maslow’s Hierarchy as a framework, it’s easy to understand why, after they have their survival and safety needs met young people aren’t automatically selecting to spend their time in your program.

You could start promoting your program on the basis of belonging. You could start telling them what it will do for their esteem. You might even appeal to their desire to make their hopes come true through your program.

But when you start illustrating those benefits clearly, young people are no longer working in a vacuum. Instead, they are comparing the benefits of what your program offers with what they’re doing with their time right now. They are comparing your organization to their friends, families and neighborhoods. They are even comparing the benefits of your program against each other by choosing which is more important to them according to Maslow’s Hierarchy.

If you make the case, at some point they will compare playing video games, eating pizza or smoking weed to your program—along with everything else at hand. Then it dawns on them that the most unusual thing they can choose, your program, is also the most beneficial—but now it doesn’t seem so unusual.

The best thing to do—attend your program—is now the most obvious thing to do, and they will choose it, but only in comparison.

So, how should you promote your program?

If your program operates where few others do, you can stop trying to be everything to every youth all of the time. Instead, focus on one thing and do that thing excellently.

If you’re competing for the attention, energy and time of young people then you’ll have to play by their rules. Listen to them, validate what they’re saying, authorize them to do something, take action and reflect on it with them.

However, if you have a lot of time where you’d offer your program regularly and you’re looking for something else to do to serve youth, then you can have several versions of your program or other programs to offer. Young people can then move from comparing your program to other programs in the neighborhood toward comparing your program to other programs you offer.

For example, if you run a theater program, young people can choose from your agency’s theater program, which is short and fun, and your fiscal education program, which is longer and more intellectual.

Even in a very competitive neighborhood where your program is competing with other youth programs, gang membership, ample youth jobs and sitting around the house, you want to create a situation where they have stopped considering everything else and are now choosing from your organization’s range of programs.

If you’re offering a program where there’s nothing else like it in your community, then there’s still a reason for creating a comparison structure.

Youth will look around and choose whether to get involved based on how you appeal to their needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy — even if they’re comparing apples to oranges.

For example, if you were to recruit for a program on outdoor education and a program on service learning, they aren’t particularly similar. Yet, the benefits of one program influences how youth look at the benefits of the other program.

And even if a young person selects one program your organization offers this time, next time they may move to your program, depending on your ability to benefit them.

Create that comparison

Whether you’re recruiting youth for a photography course, youth employment program, interpretive dance workshop, or GED classes, the one factor to remember is that young people either choose in a vacuum or in a comparison structure.

You want to get them to compare. Once you’ve gotten them to pay attention to your program, you should then have a series of benefit comparisons on your own flyer and website.

Create that comparison. Even if you don’t have a range of programs yet, get started moving in that direction today.

When you do, you can still list (or decrease) the list of benefits to appeal to youth. Remember that they want to make choices, and they do not want to be told what to do.

It’s at that point that youth comparing benefits becomes a strategy, by discouraging them having a knee-jerk reaction.

And it’s at that point that you getting youth through the door en masse. That will make you—and the youth you work with—a lot happier.

Youth Engagement in the Economy by Adam Fletcher

Over the last six months, I have written more than a dozen articles about youth engagement in the economy. For the first time, I’ve compiled them into a publication and added some important information. A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy is a guide addressing youth employment, youth entrepreneurship, youth training, youth banking, youth programs, school classes and other activities. Covering the most forward-thinking about economic youth engagement, this publication is for employers, youth workers, teachers, and others committed to building the economy through youth engagement. Learn more by downloading it today, and share it with your friends, colleagues and networks!

 

NEW E-BOOK:

A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy
by Adam Fletcher
81 pages
Published by The Freechild Project
Olympia, Washington, USA
2015

Follow REAL Leaders!

 

Is your business struggling? Are you having a hard time getting a job? Can’t figure out which way to go or what to do? Follow the leaders!

Sure, you think you’ve seen leaders piping up on tv or smathered across the Internet: Richard Branson, Maureen Dowd, Malcolm Gladwell, Sir Ken Robinson, Paul Krugman, Arianna Huffington… I don’t want to take away anything from these people, but the challenge is that they are opinion leaders, and not real actors who are making practical change happen today. They may have led by example in the past, but they aren’t right now.

We need to follow real leaders. Here are three examples.

Candace Neveau started a business called Thunderbird Rock in her small Ontario town to promote educational eco/culture tours and activities. Focusing on her tribal culture and historical elements of Sault Ste. Marie, as well as the ecosystem around Whitefish Island. Her tours specialize in history, craft making, nature walks and traditional teachings. She employs young people from her community, and teaches others too. Speaking about changing the world through entrepreneurship, Candace says, “There is a shift, an awakening, and entrepreneurs are people who are doing work and creating their own jobs because they see how broken things are and they’re not going to sit there and live with that. They have to change it. They can’t do anything else but change it. There are people out there and it burns inside them.” (LinkedIn profile)

Kaniela Ing is a state senator in the 11th House District of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He was elected in 2012, and since then he has focused on policies that encourage sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation. Ing believes in restoring public trust in the government and instituting election reform policies. He has also made education and economic development a focus of his time in office. Ing has strong opinions about a number of issues. For instance, when recently talking about a new voter registration law, he commented, “We need to modernize our archaic election processes and make voting as easy and simple as possible.” (LinkedIn profile)

Leanna Archer used a recipe from her great-grandmother to bottle and sell her own hair pomade to her friends. Today, she has an entire line of all-natural products, including hair cleansers, conditioners and treatments. As the CEO of her own company, Archer works constantly and manages to maintain successful profit margins. In her spare time(!), she operates a philanthropic foundation to help build schools and safe learning environments for underprivileged children in Haiti. Leanna chips out wisdom like, “When you want something done, you have to do it yourself,” and “Dreams are wild, but they’re wild enough to come true.” (LinkedIn profile)

Each of these REAL leaders has practical, powerful wisdom to share right now. Each one is stepping out in big ways, past expectations and towards success on their own terms. We can learn things from these people and many others who are doing the work right now.

Here are three reasons why we need to follow REAL leaders:

Reason 1. [R]ealism: They Are Doing Tangible Things Right Now. REAL leaders are doing tangible things right now. They show realism because the scale they are working on and the impact they are having can be observed, and there are practical things we can all learn from them in real time. Since they’re operating right now, lessons and learning from REAL leaders are applicable to the real time situations we are facing right now.

Reason 2. [E]mpowerment: They know they’ve got something going. When people are entrenched in the work, they aren’t worried with praise or being lavished with accolades and awards because they are busy. They know they’ve got something going. When REAL leaders aren’t being praised all the time, they are either working or thinking about work. Their lack of awards makes their knowledge powerful because they aren’t trying to earn more awards or get more attention. REAL leaders are busy working.

Reason 3. [A]ction: People See Them Leading Everyday. The challenge of armchair leaders is that you can’t see them lead – you just have to take their word for it. People see REAL leaders working every day, because that’s what makes their leadership real. They aren’t sharing abstract concepts or theoretical frameworks; they’re doing real work.

Reason 4: [L]earning: They Are Learning All The Time. No matter who is at the front or how its happening, REAL leaders are learning all the time. For instance, each example above is from a young person who is under 25 years old, and successfully challenging apathy, disregard and cynicism from their own communities, and from society at large. They learn all the time, and so can you.

These four reasons make REAL leaders today: Realism, Empowerment, Action, and Learning. Follow REAL leaders!

The thing about REAL leaders though? They aren’t exceptional. Instead, they are the rule, more frequently than ever. Every person can be a REAL leader.

Here are 10 ways to follow REAL leaders in the world today:

  1. Make friends. Youth and young adults don’t bite. Offer a genuine hand of friendship to learn from them.
  2. Offer your time. Young people who are REAL leaders are busy all the time! Between school, young families, and hustling to make a difference, they are busy and could use a hand.
  3. Be a mentor. Offer your wisdom, and learn in turn. Many young leaders are yearning for adults to learn from, and you could be one of them.
  4. Challenge your beliefs. Think youth are apathetic and lazy? Stop. Think you don’t have time? You’re wrong. Believe you have nothing to learn? Get real.
  5. Go to where they are. If you want to learn from REAL leaders, go to where they are and quit insisting they come to you.
  6. Shop from them. Hire them, vote for them, and do practical things that benefit REAL leaders. Learn their lessons while you’re doing that.
  7. Form partnerships. Do you have something to offer youth entrepreneurs, young politicians, or youth social change agents? Work with them to learn from them.
  8. Challenge others. If you want to learn from REAL leaders, challenge the biases and negative opinions of other adults. That will force you to learn.
  9. Believe. Many young people are trapped in the cynical and demeaning news cycles that portray them as super indifferent or super violent. Believe in youth.
  10. Speak up. However, wherever and whenever you can, speak up for REAL leaders and promote them and their work.

Following REAL leaders can lead your business, your community, and yourself to a successful, bright and powerful future. They can do that because they’re on the edge, they’re sacrificing for success, and they are all making a difference.

What are you doing today? If you’re not making a difference, follow these young people and many, many others. Then go out and change the world.

The Rhythm of Engagement

Rhythm

There’s a rhythm of life that calls for each of us to feel and listen to it. Its in the footsteps we take, the handshakes we share, the kisses and hugs, the ways we type and write, and definitely in our breathing.

Its the rhythm of engagement.

Engagement, which is defined as the sustained connections we experience throughout our lives,  happens all around us all of the time. Every single one of us is engaged right now.

There are some people who are not engaged in things they want to be, or in ways we want them to be. They include:

  • Out-of-touch community workers
  • Disengaged students
  • Disconnected neighbors
  • Drifting romantic partners
  • Dispassionate workers
  • Puzzled retirees
  • Low performing salespeople
  • New entrepreneurs

In reality, everyone can benefit from feeling the rhythm of engagement in their lives. The folks above may specifically want to reconnect with the rhythm; you might too. That’s what I am working on providing next!

Share your thoughts below and ask questions if you want to learn more now, or simply wait for the coming weeks to see this next project to reveal itself. Engaging the disengaged is my goal; what’s yours?!?

Radical Transparency with Children and Youth

How To Be Radically Transparent With Children and Youth
  1. Start when they’re young. While young people are still young, that’s the time to make be radically transparent with them. Having a transparent conversation with a 17 or 18 year old can be difficult, if only because they’re conditioned to accept adults obfuscating. By starting early, you weave into your relationships with young people your own ability to be honest, and show your expectation that your relationships with children and youth are motivated by fully mutual accountability.
  2. Take issues one at a time. When creating a radically transparent relationship with young people, go in steps. Being completely open and honest all at once can be really difficult and daunting. Every time you would typically keep information to yourself, ask yourself, “Why can’t I share this with young people?” Unless you come up with a strong argument against it, opt for openness. But in increments.
  3. Make time to explain your logic. As a radically transparent adult ally, you must be honest and fair. Young people need to understand how you came to your decisions and why. Be ready to spend a huge amount of time with children and youth explaining everything. The extra time will pay off, when ultimately, your effort will inspire trust and respect.
  4. Clearly outline the steps for action. Radically transparent organizations need clear ways for young people to take action. You might set specific goals or show young people which skills and outcomes they can be developing. Being fair in this process prevents you from expecting any young people to do something beyond their abilities. Make sure your organization is focused on process more than product, and let young people know that’s the case.
  5. Question your own discomfort. Making traditionally adult-only information available to young people naturally stirs up discomfort. A lot of the time its uncomfortable because it’s never been done before. Whenever you hesitates, ask yourself if sharing that information would help or engage the young people you’re working with. If it would, do it. Once it’s out in the open, discomfort quickly fades. If it doesn’t, its trying to show you more.

There is no such thing as genuinely non-coercive relationships with young people. The best writing about that topic is full of coercion and attempts to get kids to do things, but from particularly obtuse or obfuscated angles. There’s are political causes behind everything- not party politik, but philosophical politics.


Those philosophical politics inform all our ways of being, including and especially our relationships with young people. Its from this place that philosopher/theorists like Freire, Illich, and even Neill become so relevant. However, they represent different perspectives, and as a critical theorist I hang my hat closest to Freire.
It is from this perspective that I find myself wondering lately about the notion of radical transparency with children and youth. Growing up in the mire of post-naive capitalism, I have grown to deeply appreciate attempts to reveal the political considerations of the systems and society I occupy and participate in. The dark forces of gross consumerism routinely pile up cheap plastic crap around us in piles so big we can’t see what’s going on around us. 
Those piles are formed of the detritus of our lifestyles, including the stuff we buy and the places we attend. However, they’re also made from the shady forces of popular culture which seek to block us from seeing why things around us happen the ways they do. 
Given an opportunity to identify clearly what they see in the world around them, I believe young people have the innate capacity to discover and examine why things are the way they are. They can also identify how things operate, and how they can be transformed. With consistent and relevant exposure throughout their lives, all children and youth could gradually, purposefully, and truly become operative democrats—that is, fully engaged citizens in a democracy—at much younger ages than we afford people now.

The believe that there’s a static experience of childhood that should be preserved through ignorance and limited exposure to the world is idyllic and has been proven misguided, if only because we know that for all intents and purposes, that experience is limited to so few young people. Right now it seems as if the domineering modus operandi in society is to “throw them to the wolves” of pop culture consumerism that defines their identities for them. I want young people to be able to choose their identities, connections, and engagements, rather than allowing corporations to choose for them.

I don’t think transparency equals full access or authority. It may lend itself to that, and when it’s appropriate it will. But I’m not inclined to hand over the keys to the house and invite everyone in, as it were. If a young person wanted more of an institution at will and of there own volition, that’s something different. But rather than foist everything upon every young person all at once, I wonder of there’s a need for degrees of transparency. Is transparency only necessary/appropriate when young people request it? If that choice isn’t radical transparency, then what is? Cynicism is popular in some communities, while in most others there’s gross apathy. What other options are there?


Writing about this, I think it’s important to clarify that I’m thinking mostly about social institutions like families, schools, policing, the economy, government, nonprofits, religions. What if Toto ran up and pulled back the curtain on any of those institutions? What would young people themselves see? Can we be that revelatory and transparent?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!