Students and Employers Share Their Thoughts About the Workplace and Workforce of the Future in a Unique Conversation

When high school and community college students are asked how they believe employers see their age group they are surprisingly aware and very frank. “They think we are lazy, entitled, inexperienced, less responsible than older employees, and that we are too dependent on technology.”

What do these students want employers to know about them? “Give us a chance. We do work hard and we need experience in order to learn. Just because we use technology does not mean we are tech savvy, we do need training. We are open-minded and open to change. But we are different and we view the world differently.”

On the morning of February 9, 2017 forty-five students from six different schools in Itasca and Cass Counties in NE Minnesota gathered at the Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids where they were invited to explore their thoughts with each other about whether they are thinking of staying in the region, what is influencing their thoughts about work, how they think employers see their age group, what they want employers to know about them and how they want to be treated at work.

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Bold questions were asked

Throughout the morning they had a chance to meet each other in a series of small group conversations to consider topics about their employment future many had not yet given much thought to. Their conversations grew longer and more thoughtful as the morning progressed and by lunch time they were ready to meet employers.

In the afternoon, thirty-five people from various employers in the region joined the conversation, bringing curiosity and keen interest in learning the thoughts and ideas of the students and willing to share about their work environments and some of the opportunities that exist. Students and employers shared with each other what they think the other group thinks of them, how they each want to be treated at work and how they can retain young people in the region, or attract them back.

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Employers and students in rich conversations with each other about the workplace and workforce of the future

Everyone was deeply and respectfully engaged in the conversations and they learned a lot – including, whether they are an employer or potential employee they do want very similar things but the how to them might be different. Some key learnings: respect is a two-way street, training is vital to the development of good employees and workplace environments, young people are open to challenges at work, dependability at work means everyone can do their job well, employers are not just sitting back and doing nothing. Students learned there is more opportunity in the area than they thought and both employers and students acknowledged it could be quite beneficial for young people to leave the area to learn and grow and then come back home with an expanded worldview.

They also talked about the importance of communication and of honesty while maintaining and positive attitude and make expectations clear. Both talked about failure – how it is a good learning opportunity.

This is a Worldview Intelligence project funded by the Blandin Foundation, supported by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and carried out by the Meadowlark Institute focused on workforce readiness and workplace changes in response to the growing need for workers in the region. This problem not unique to NE Minnesota but this is the first initiative of its kind focused on employers, future employees and the community has a whole.

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Clustering the post-it note harvest looking for themes and patterns

Schools that participated in this initiative are Deer River, Grand Rapids, ALC, Hill City School, Northern Lights Community School, Itasca Community College. At the end of the morning the students had an opportunity to speak about their experience in the conversations. Many indicated it was different than what they were expecting – believing they were coming to a job fair. While a few indicated it was at times boring, they were amazed at the opportunity to share their ideas on each of the topics and pleased to be able to reflect on questions that are looming for them about the workplace. A few also reflected some anxiety about interacting with others they did not know, but that quickly turned into curiosity and connection.

By the time the employers showed up, the students were warmed up and ready to engage confidently in conversations that treated them as equals – one of the things they are looking for in the workplace.

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