By: Missa Perron
Figuring out a career path is hard for most people and for youth of color, systemic barriers make it even more difficult to stay on track. That’s why we created United Way’s On Track Career Expo: an evening of engaging career exhibits, thoughtful resource tables and one-on-one mentoring to encourage youth of color to set and accomplish their goals.
The success of this event stemmed from a powerful partnership with LinkedIn and San Francisco’s School District’s (SFUSD) African American Youth Achievement and Leadership Initiative, through President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. Together, we went above and beyond the typical job fair approach. We leaned into our powerful network of community experts to better understand the structures in place that prevent disproportionate amounts of students of color from graduating.
Our Bay Area community spoke, and we listened. We heard a need for more wraparound services to support youth, so that they can focus more time on their studies and less time on external challenges. Henry, a freshman from San Francisco, told us that he was having a great time at the career expo: “I came here to try to get a little advice, and to find out what’s out there.” Volunteers from a variety of agencies offered their time and expertise to talk with students about case management with CHALK, financial education with MEDA, and many more social services ready and eager to collaborate with them.
We also heard a need to demystify the process of landing a fulfilling career after graduating. Many youth have an idea of what they want do after graduation, but are held back by not understanding the real steps necessary to get there. In response, we recruited incredible exhibitors from companies including Dropbox and AT&T who could explain the academic requirements of these positions. Together they walked the students through which majors they should consider, and outlined what the class load really looked like.
Ravi, a volunteer from Texas Instruments and member of United Way’s Emerging Leaders affinity group, said, “It was a very exciting event! Being an engineer, I want to be able to help [students] see that STEM and engineering programs are not out of reach.”
Held at LinkedIn’s beautiful headquarters, the students could imagine themselves working with an elite tech firm someday. The LinkedIn photo booth was a predictable crowd favorite with this generation! In addition to playing along with the young people’s affinity to social media and photos, it also introduced many of them to the importance of creating a networking profile.
We are so grateful to LinkedIn, SFUSD, and all of the volunteers who collaborated to keep youth of color on track to graduating. Check out our Facebook album to see some of the fascinating exhibits – and don’t miss the pictures from the dance-off!
But our work doesn’t stop there – United Way’s youth employment program helps youth explore career tracks and internships year round. Learn more about our programs committed to empowering youth.