A quarter of the regional population of Central Texas is under 18, and many will be entering the workforce this year. How do we better empower these youth for Central Texas careers in high demand? Join Future Ready NextForce Podcast Host Diane Tackett, Chief Operating Officer with Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area (WSRCA), and her guests, Paul Fletcher, Chief Executive Officer with WSRCA, Camille Clay, Senior Director of College and Career Transition Programs with Leander Independent School District, and LaKissa Bright, Founder and President of Ladders For Leaders, as they review current challenges and solutions to connect classrooms to careers and introduce Texas youth to the world of work.
Are you ready? But are you future ready? Be a part of the force Future Ready of course, the Future Ready NextForce Podcast. Identifying barriers to career success. NextForce. Finding solutions to empower businesses. NextForce. Helping Central Texans avoid child care distress. NextForce. The Future Ready NextForce Podcast. The Future Ready NextForce Podcast is brought to you by Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area. Developing talent for employers by coaching Texans to employment. Hello, and welcome to the future ready next force podcast. I'm your host Diane Tackett, Chief Operating Officer for Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area. Today we're taking a closer look at youth career exploration specifically, how do we empower our youth for local careers in high demand? To give some insight on this issue, I've got some great guests joining me today. Paul Fletcher, CEO from Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area, LaKissa Bright, Founder and President of the organization Ladders 4 Leaders, and Camille Clay, Senior Director of College and Career transition teams for the Leander Independent School District, also the high school I graduated from. Before we get into the conversation, let me share this quote from footlocker CEO Mary Dillon. She says the best way to build the best workforce is to focus on the largest talent pool you have. A quarter of our regional population is under the age of 18. And many will be entering the workforce this year. Here in Central Texas, our region is made up of Bastrop Blanco, Burnet Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, and Williamson counties. Paul, you and I are always digging into the numbers and you've got some great insight on the workforce in our area. So when you see stats that say 24.3% of the population in our nine county area is under 18. That's about 254,000 young workers. What does this say to you? And what trends do you see emerging? Well, thanks, Diane, you know, I think that offers us a tremendous potential pipeline of talent. And we want to be able to work with our educational partners to ensure that they are getting the right kind of labor market information that helps tell young people what career opportunities look like for them in this area, what it could look like for them in five years and 10 years, so that as they as they pick a career path, they can kind of project and see their future in that potential industry and see where they where they could be in five to 10 years. Some may be college bound, so maybe going into trade, so maybe going for a six month certification post high school that lets them get right into the workforce. We're very much in favor of all of those opportunities for kids today. But we want to make sure they have information about what those opportunities look like, what the career paths within each of those opportunities looks like what costs are and where they see themselves in two to five years, and then five to 10 years. So I'm also glad that you're sitting with us today, because you've been in this field for a good while. Can you tell our listeners a little about your background? And what previously has been the conversation that you've had about our younger workers? Sure, yeah. That's Diane's way of saying that I've been in this field for a long time, is her way of saying I'm really old, which is probably true. But so I've been in, I've been involved in workforce development since 1997. I started as the workforce board's workforce center operator back in 1997, under a corporate corporation called Lockheed Martin. Over the years, we transitioned into several different companies. And I had the opportunity to leave the workforce center operator realm, and come over to the Workforce Board as their executive director or the CEO. So I've been in this business for about 25 years. Really enjoy it. It's a great opportunity to work not just with kids, but with everyone in our communities to help them understand what labor market information looks like, what it can do for them, how we can help employers, how we can help job seekers, how we can work with our child care, early care learning providers, so that they're getting good information about what the labor market looks like. And when we start talking to kids, when they're three or four or five years old about what careers look like, it's never too early to start so that they start thinking about that, you know, you don't have to decide when you're in second grade what you want to do, but knowing what opportunities are there for you, I think I think are important. And I think it's critical that people have the right information and they understand what that information can do for them. Not just that not just knowing about career opportunities, but Sure. Thanks so much, Diane. Yeah. So Ladders 4 Leaders was I think it's also being able to have the things that we consider actually started out of a personal experience. My daughter soft skills for people to be able to be successful in employment. And many times children learn that whether went off to college, and she changed her major three times in they're in an early-learning center, or they learned that while they're in elementary school and middle school, but the first year. Well, when she went off to college, she decided it's those things like having grit and resilience and determination and being able to bounce back through adversity that she was going to be a reproductive endocrinologist, and being able to take some constructive criticism and you like, what is that? But okay. And so she goes, and she starts know, trying harder the next day to try again and continue to improve. So one of the things that leads me to I'd like to taking all these specialized classes. And so when she changed take a moment and introduce LaKissa Bright. Thank you for joining us today. I know that Ladders 4 Leaders is the second her major, it was money, just wasted, classes that she no nonprofit you've started after being in the corporate world longer needed. So $10,000 in the hole, I started to wonder what working for IBM. Your work puts you right on the ground helping students in Travis and Williamson counties. Tell me could I have done to better expose her and prepare her more about how you got started in the work your organization before she went off to college? And the answer to that question does for students? was put her in positions where she can see what professionals do. I know she wouldn't have been able to sit with a reproductive endocrinologist. But now she's in business, she might have been able to sit with somebody in business and say, Yes, this is what I like to do. And so based out of that experience, Ladders 4 Leaders was born. I also had a son who was going into high school at the time, and I promised myself that he was going to have these experiences before he went off to college. And so he interned with our program for two years. He went into college as a business major, and he's still a I really liked the idea of being able to offer career exploration business major today, fingers crossed. So, so yeah, so we are a workforce development program for youth, focusing on internships with companies that are in the local community. And our goal is to give them at least six weeks of experience with an accountant with a somebody in trades with somebody in business, whatever it is that they desire to be, we placed them in those opportunities so that they can make informed decisions upon graduating from high school. opportunities for young adults, where they can really get into a business and see what the what the impact is, and see what it's like to work for an organization. So I can kind of see from Paul's perspective, looking at the labor market information that shows what industries and occupations are expanding and then giving young adults the opportunity to actually go into an internship or some type of real world experience to decide if those occupations or trends are a good fit for them. I think that makes a lot of sense. And so the third person I'd like to introduce is Camille Clay, Camille, you oversee the district's Career and technical education, dual credit programs, student internships, and teacher externships. Would I be correct in saying your work within the school district shares? The common goal with LaKissa's? Absolutely one of the things that we really do strive to do is give students in elementary, middle high school as many opportunities to figure out what it is that what career that they might want to enter. And that can be done in a number of ways. The internship is a huge part of what exposes students that they really get to try on a career when they go out to that internship, but really leading up to that, you know, Paul mentioned earlier about some of our elementary students and that age. It really for us, we kind of frame it in three ways where we really look at awareness, kind of in our elementary years, that morphs into a little bit more of what I would call exploration in middle school. And then in high school, it really jumps over into preparedness with, you know, a very intentional program of study. But we're also very aware that when students, they may start in a health science career and figure out very quickly in the first course, that that's really not for me. So we do want them to be able to switch and try on something else, maybe a career in education, or maybe they want to try to go into engineering, and so as many opportunities as they have to try on a different career. So when they graduate, their path is a little bit more solidified for them. The other thing that I will say is that when we are working on that preparedness piece, we want them to have every opportunity open to them when they graduate, and then it's really up to them. When they decided to enter the workforce. Some students are going to graduate they are going to go straight into the workforce. Or they may go to a local junior college or community college and start, you know, a certificate program. They may go for an associate's or they may go straight into industry. Many of our students are also going to work while they're in college and we want them to have those skills that they've developed while they're in high school to actually help support them along the way. And so one of the mechanisms that we will use that is very much in line with LaKissa is what we called work-based learning. And so we really do try to focus on how can we connect industry in to the teachers, which is the great thing what we love so much about that teacher externship program, because that gets industry a step closer to the students in the classroom. And so we can engage with students through career fairs, we can engage and have our students engaging with industry through site visits to different industry locations, having guest speakers come into the classroom, the internships for our for students, and teachers so that they connect. But I think the bottom line for us, let's give them as many opportunities at whatever level to see what is out there, what fits for them. And to graduate, maybe a step ahead with either that industry credential, or some college credits, or the dual credit program, or a mentorship or an industry connection. That sounds really interesting. And again, just the connection and the opportunity for young adults to explore different options. I mean, nobody's going to know right away what they would like to do. And honestly, when people are making decisions about their career paths, I think fewer and fewer people are making a decision about what they'd like to do for the rest of their lives. And they're making decisions using a different set of criteria, whether it's what I might be interested in for the next five years, what is available to me immediately, but there's different criteria that I think young adults are using and and other adults as well when they're making those career decisions. So LaKissa and Camille, when we look closer at our young workers, specifically in our area, about 25% come from single parent families. And there's another two and a half percent or so that are disconnected from services. So not connected with a school district or educational program, not necessarily connected with an employment program or a workforce provider. What's some of the realities for the young people that you help? When it comes to career exploration? I can answer this actually, from personal experience, I was a child that came out of a single parent home, and honestly was not aware of a lot of opportunities out there. I did have a school counselor who pulled me to the side one day and said to me, you need to fill out this application, like, Okay. I filled it out and got into a university and I was going to that university. And so I think when you ask what are the realities, for some of these students, I think the reality is that they don't have the assistance, and they don't have the exposure, and that they need organizations and companies who are willing to pick them up and give them those opportunities, they need the school system. And I know the school system has programs like AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) for first generation college students and transition programs for students and, and so the reality is that those students need all of us to come together and to make these possibilities a reality for them. I would say for me just a personal example. I knew when I was in high school, that my strengths were math and science. But I had absolutely no idea how to turn that into a career. I was raised in a very small rural community. And I didn't really understand or know what options were out there. And so my lens and in working with programs, is to try to really make sure that that students do know what options are out there for them to have a variety of programs within our district, especially in the CTE realm that are based on labor market information. Where we can provide as many opportunities, we do have those students who walk in the door, who they've known, they were going to be an engineer since the second grade, because everybody in our family is an engineer, and I know what it is, and I love it. And then we have other students who walk in the door, and they know they don't want to be an engineer, because everybody in their family is, but they still don't know what that looks like for them. So again, it's about providing as many opportunities and for that student that does know what they want to do, what our what our goal is for them to graduate with as many skills as possible if they stay on that path. But for that student who doesn't, let's expose them to as many opportunities as we can, through a variety of programs of study, through guest speakers, through field trips through whatever kind of work based learning activity we can do. And I can tell you that our transition coordinators and our counselors play such a key role in working with our students one on one, and trying to help guide them and make those connections for them. One of the primary roles of our transition coordinators and our counselors is to make sure that our students we know where our students are going when they leave us and that we have a plan past high school and also try to make ourselves available so that if things are not working out for them that they still can come back and talk to us. You know, it's not like, you know, waving by at graduation. You know, we still want our students to feel like they can come back if there's some additional advice that they need. I think that's great. And one of the things I heard was this idea of exposure, there's no shortage of opportunities. And one of the key things we can do to help young adults in identifying what their career goals or their next job goal would be is to offer that opportunity of exposure to different different options, different occupations in the community, maybe different employers in the community. And so what I think is really interesting about this is this isn't just an issue that we're looking at in our rural capital nine county area, this is actually something the state of Texas has addressed. And so there is 60 by 30, Texas Higher Education Plan that has come out recently. And some of the goals in this plan say that at least 60% of Texans aged 25 to 34 will have a certificate or degree all graduates from Texas public institutions of higher education will have completed programs with identified marketable skills. At least 550,000 students will complete a Certificate associate's bachelor's, or master's from an institution of higher education in Texas and undergraduate student loan debt will not exceed 60% of the first year wages for graduates of Texas public institutions. Now, that's a lot of information. And while this, this plan is moving Texas in the right direction, our data has shown that a degree isn't always enough. Sometimes students will need to match their credentials to the needs of employers, the role of the higher education helping students and employers coordinate their efforts is essential. So it's not just the idea of having a certification or a credential, it's being able to match that to employers in the community so that we can ensure that our young adults are on career pathways and are really able to continue to promote and progress in this career. So in saying that, I'd like to put this question out to everybody, what can we do to better align certifications and credentials with the needs of the industries in our area? So you know, I think one of the best things we can do, from from my perspective as a Workforce Board is to bring people to the table and bring educators and employers to the table. And everyone sit down and talk about what from the employers perspective, what do they need, from the educational perspective, they talk about what what kind of resources they have, and what kind of educational opportunities they can provide. And I think listening to the employers helps the educators kind of fine tune and hone in on the skills they need to be teaching so that the employers are able to get from those kind of programs, the students with the right skill sets to come work in their operations, I will add to that as well. Being a parent and very involved in the community. The one thing I'll say is education of the parents as well. One thing that I've seen is that a lot of parents push careers on their children, mostly because you know, you go into a four year university and being a doctor sounds great, being a lawyer sounds great. But if parents were educated on what some of these other opportunities are out there, you know, what are the exact needs of the industry? And what are the salary opportunities that come with those. Specifically like some of the trades, I just think parents aren't as educated on it. And so they push their children towards the greys and other areas, which may not be a good fit for their child. One of the things I've seen over the last few years is really the tri agency partnership between the Higher Ed Coordinating Board, Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Education Agency really coming together around this effort. And in alignment. I know that we've been had the opportunity for quite a few programs of study and kind of a revamp that's very much been aligned to high scale, high demand, high wage jobs within the state or within our local region. And so that has really helped us in aligning our programs to that demand here within our community. The other thing that's that's really important, Paul, I'll echo what you said about bringing all the employers because within those programs of study bringing our employers and both at the state level and at the local level to help us with the different credentials, because credentials for us have been identified, you know, through through industry but being able to bring those local employers in to look at the different options and how we might embed those within our programs is really essential for us. You know, I think it's important to refresh that over time because those credentials get established and the skill sets that are taught to attain those credentials are set but the the work the employers do in industry do continues to evolve. So the curriculum and the credentials have to evolve over time to keep pace with what the employers need. So we can't we can't still be shoeing horses here. We need the mechanics and be able to fix the automobiles, not the horse and buggy anymore, and we just have to keep keep evolving and keep learning and keep doing new things. So I've I've heard us talk about being able to align employers and higher education and school districts to kind of be on the same page when we talk about aligning certifications and credentials to meet the needs of industry, but I think also there's a young adult voice. And so LaKissa and Camille, I'd like to hear what kind of things are you hearing from students and from their parents when it comes to looking at careers? Or looking at education past high school? What kind of worries do they have? What what are they concerned about? Some of what we hear is financial. Can you... How are we going to pay for education? I think people do not want, you know, to graduate with a large debt, we do educate based on the recommendation of the 60% of your first year salary as far as debt and some things like that. That's one of the things that we probably hear the most about from parents, and is really the cost of higher ed. And are there other ways? Is there a way that we can work our way through Is there a way that we can get in with a company who's willing to train us. Some of those different options parents are really looking for, I would actually echo that. That's definitely the big thing that we're hearing is, college is so expensive, and we're unable to pay for it. And we don't want to graduate with a large amount of debt. So what are the options there? If I had to pick a second thing that I'm hearing most from parents is, is my child prepared to go off to college? Are prepared to even enter the workforce? Because they have been dealing with a pandemic for the past three years. And so there's, you know, social issues, you know, learning issues that have happened over the past three years. And so there's a lot of concern about really being ready as compared to students from from the past. Some of the efforts Workforce Solutions rural Capital Area is doing is the work coming from our K through 12 career exploration team. They're currently working with all 36 independent school districts across our region to help host career days, allowing students a vocational experience through immersive virtual reality simulations. Paul, do you want to talk a little bit more about the virtual reality program? Sure, we had a tremendous opportunity and with resources made available to us through the Texas Workforce Commission to allow us to purchase 25 virtual reality headsets. And we have staff that use those those resources to take them out to a school that number 25 was was decided on, because that should accommodate a classroom full of students. So we can take those virtual reality headsets out to a classroom and immerse those students in all kinds of occupations that they may never have an opportunity to participate in, and get, you know, get a glimpse into what it's like to be a carpenter or an electrician, or a plumber, or welder or a nurse or, you know, on and on and on to really see what what a day in the life is like in that kind of industry or in that occupation. And from that point, it gives them an opportunity to kind of step into an internship or a some kind of more immersive activity but but without having to travel and leave your desk you could really get get a hands on experience of kind of what that's like and decide if you like it. The students who say they want to go into healthcare, and they take training for six months, and the first time they go in the field. finally understand they don't like the sight of blood. That's, you know, that's not a good use of that six months for them. So let's let's help them get on a path more quickly. And we're ready to give them experiences that did they would never have an opportunity to try. Were it not for some of this kind of new technology. LaKissa and Camille, based on your work with students, what can organizations like ours do to have more effective school visits and more effective visits with youth and young adults? I actually love the the virtual reality thing. I think the same daughter that I talked about previously, when she was in the medical field, went into the office one time saw blood and just had a whole panic attack. So that I think that's a great a great thing that you're doing. The only other thing that I can think of is you know, direct exposure. So a day in the life of is a great idea. So maybe taking the students and having them follow a nurse for a day, follow an engineer for a day follow an attorney for a day, I went into college as an accounting major. And I always said if I had 20 minutes to spend with an accountant, before I got off to college, I would have changed my mind. And so a day in the life of I think is a very, very effective way to expose students and to let them actually see what happens in that profession. I would echo that and of the the help that you give us by bringing industry partners to the table so we can connect with them at the Career days and the career fairs with the with the virtual goggles. Also, you've given us connections for different internships and externships. So for me is continuing to convene the folks who are working in the school system with industry with other community partners. Not always just industry but other people who are assisting with youth in a variety of ways. So continuing to be that partner who brings us all together, I think is incredibly important. I like that idea too, we kind of touched on it earlier of teacher externships as a way to bring the occupation into focus and really help students understand. Because when the teacher has that real world experience, and they can bring that back into the classroom, I think it helps students get a better expectation of what that particular career occupation would be. So Paul, what do you think, has been the biggest challenge for workforce boards when it comes to meeting the needs between families, employers, local leaders? And what kind of things have we done to respond to that? So you know, I think one of our biggest challenges is awareness of the Workforce Board and the and the work and the work that we do in the community, we call marketing the M word, we're not supposed to really do it based on a lot of our funding, we try to spread awareness to every free opportunity we can we do a lot of work through social media, you know, just a lot of going out and talking to talking to schools, talking to employers, talking to industry associations, trying to get the message out about who we are, what we do, and what kind of resources we can bring to help some of those groups together. Like employers and educators, I've talked to parents do some educational opportunities with students about what careers look like and how they can use the resources that are available to find those career pathways, and then walk those career pathways and enter, enter that world of work in whichever, whichever way they choose to do so. I think the other thing that is a big challenge is getting through to kids on what it really costs to, to live in the real world. I have a 14 year old granddaughter who plays video games and one of those video games, she has built herself a giant mansion, it's beautiful. I've seen it. She drives a really nice car, I asked her what she did for a living and she delivers pizza, she makes $200,000 a week delivering pizza. So some of the information out there for kids is just not real. And how do they know the difference between what's real and what's not, there's a great app out there called Reality Check that lets you as a as a student, or just any individual go through and say I want to, you know, I want to live in this neighborhood want to drive this kind of car, I want to do all these different things. And it breaks down for you what those things really cost in that area. And then you start comparing that to different occupations. And you see that if I want, if I want to make $200,000 a week, delivering pizzas probably not going to be the occupation you're going to choose. But it really gives you an indication, if you you think in my head, I want to be a fireman. This is what that job pays. And if you have different kinds of dreams about how you want to live those dreams and that reality may not match up. So using that kind of information to help people explore, you know, what, what do you think is really pay? And how, how can I get the skills I need to do those kinds of things? And then is that going to provide me with the lifestyle that I think I want? I think that's great information for kids to have. And it's one of our challenges is getting that information out to everybody. So I'm gonna add live here, because this also kind of reminds me of the career lattices that are available on our website. So you know, honestly, I think probably one of the conversations that we have with young adults as they're preparing to transition out of high school is, you may not be able to achieve the salary that you need on day one. But what we can do is help prepare you for a career pathway that's going to get you a progression into a profession that will pay the salary that Paul was referring to through the Reality Check app that would be important or that somebody identifies that they need. And so, you know, just kind of thinking about using the career lattices as tools for exploration, it kind of shows the young adult, the entry level positions that will allow them to advance into their career or different occupations, and then to transition between different occupations. Because again, it's not, it's not likely that a young adult is going to stay in one career for the rest of their lives. But it allows that transition to show what skills are needed to go from occupation to occupation, and to be able to progress in the employment world in the professional world, and also through wage increases. I think that's something that's really interesting as well, that we've been able to bring together. And we've we did that through the intersection and conversation of employers and education, and economic development, looking at labor market information to develop what those pathways look like. So before we go, I'd like to look ahead, going about the state's 60 by 30, date of 2030, which is only seven years from now, what are some of the success points that each of you would like to see from our youth workforce? From my perspective, I think it's important that we continue to see growth in those post high school credentials, we have to ensure that that every student that leaves school has a plan. Breaks my heart to see students graduate, and you know, they're not going to college. They're not going into the military. They don't know what they want to do and they don't know how to obtain the skills that they need. So we want to make sure we're getting people connected to those kinds of opportunities and the information that they need to make those kinds of decisions before they leave high school because once they leave it's that's when people become disconnected when they, when they leave one institution that they've been in, and they don't have a plan to go somewhere else. A lot of times people get lost, they start off on a job that that feels good feels, okay, they're making $18, $19 an hour, maybe. But there's not a lot of career growth in, in that field, and they, they make enough money to buy a car and get an apartment, and then they're not going to make much more money than, than that for the rest of their lives. If they stay in that field and don't, don't continue to to evolve, then they're stuck with a car payment and rent, and how do they stop and go back and get the skills that they need? So you know, I think it's important that that everybody have a plan, and they understand what they're working on what they're working towards, of course, everything changes. And Sometimes life happens to people and things, things happen that you didn't plan for. And that's, that's one of the reasons why it's important. I think that as a community, we're connected to, to those resources into to each other so that we can make those resources available and help apply those things where they're needed to help people overcome some of those barriers. What about other success points? So for me, let me just give an example of what I think Paul was really talking about. Last year, we had a young lady who graduated from our health science program, she graduated with a certified medical assistant, clinical certified medical assistant, she had her OSHA 10 medical card, along with CPR and First Aid, she was hired upon graduation offered a bonus to work at one of our local hospitals where she was able her plans when she left as they had promised to work with her schedule so that she could continue working towards her nursing degree at Austin Community College. They were going to work with her schedule, so that she could do that she was also going to be able to tap into employer reimbursement. So for me, you know, making sure that we have the right credential because she was she was hired as a patient care technician, which is directly applicable to the certification that she had. But it also speaks to what you were talking about earlier, Diane with the lattices taking that knowing that credential, being able to build on it being able to deal with some of the debt through some employer assistance, staying here locally with Austin Community College, keeping her cost down some of those kinds of things. But she's taking and she is working that that ladder all the way up. That's the start that we really in the connections that we want to see with our students as much as possible. Now we know that not everybody is going to stay here locally. But if we can still get them in an internship, where when they're coming back over their winter break, or they're coming back over summer break in different times where maybe they can still be connecting into that industry. That's the things that we would like to see as those connections and how they're progressing. For me, what I would say is based upon what I've seen, in the youth that we're dealing with, and talking to the parents, I echo what Camille says and Paul say about, let's make sure that we that our students understand that going to a community college is definitely an option to get you, you know, those stepping stones to where you need to be. I think that our students, given what they've been through for the last three years, I honestly feel like it's going to be very beneficial for a lot of them to stay closer to home and get that foundation that they need before branching out. But the other thing I would say in terms of success coins, is I would like to see us intentionally focus on those underserved students who don't have the exposure. And I'm talking about the students who are in AVID the students who are first generation, the students who are in foster care. I think that those are the students that we definitely definitely have to be intentional about in these few in this next coming years. Because it's going to be extremely easy for them to be left behind. You know, given the way that things have been over the past few years. I'm really glad you brought that up. I think that is such an important point, we're talking about trying to bring connections between different sections of the community between higher education, between schools in secondary education and the workforce. And it's so much easier to do that when is when a student has the support of family or other role models in their circle. But for some who do not or have lost that it's really important to build that connection as well. And to be able to provide those resources in a manner that is easily digestible and understandable for those young adults who maybe have not had the exposure or the experience that others have had. So thank you so much for bringing that point up. I think that was a great point. I'd like to add a point to what LaKissa said, so I think our current economy really lends itself right now to being it's very advantageous for us to engage those underserved populations right now because employers are very open to looking at people that have a few more barriers to employment than that and might have considered a couple of years ago when when unemployment rates were higher when they had a wider selection of people to pick from when they were trying to make their hires. So I think, you know, given the low and very low unemployment situation we have right now, everybody in our communities needs to be in the workforce, we need everybody, it's a really good opportunity to engage people, we haven't had an opportunity to engage before, and to create pathways into some of those communities and some of the some of the areas with students with disabilities, all kinds of all kinds of things out there that may not have had good inroads into before, this is an opportunity to make those inroads and to continue that even when the current economic situation is not as prevalent as it is right now. But it's just a really good economic time to be making those kind of choices. So what other thoughts? Or ideas? Or things Would you all like to share as it relates to career exploration for youth and getting youth connected to different opportunities? Is there anything that you think that we should discuss that we haven't talked about today? One thing that I'll add, it's something that you really started with, and, and that is around soft skills, you know, because the technical skills we can teach, but the soft skills are really what we keep hearing from industry over and over that we need. We need people who can communicate, who can collaborate, who can think outside the box, who can work as a team. And we continue to hear that that's one of the most important things and I think we all can do that in all of our classes, you know, in the K through 12. system. But that that's one of the most essential things that we can do. So I do appreciate you bringing that up earlier. Yeah, in terms of soft skills, we are hearing the same thing. I mean, we we give out surveys at the end of our internships, and that was the number one thing we heard from employers is the communication skills need to be worked on. And so at Ladders 4 Leaders, we do what's called Ladders 4 Leaders University, which is eight sessions that our students have to go through before they take on an internship. And one of those classes is Communications One On One, we did it in person this year. And one of our volunteers said at the end of it, she said those kids left this room different than they entered. So when they walked in, their heads were down, you could barely hear them say what their name is. But by the time they walked out, I mean, we had them walking around the room, shaking hands with people introducing themselves, looking people in the eye. And so by the time they walk out, she's like, they were different kids. And so just something that small, I think makes a big difference. In addition to that, I know I said that we focus on internships. But I feel like any experience that a kid has helps them build the soft skills. And so I feel like a kid who even works in retail, or a kid who works in a fast food restaurant, you're learning customer service skills, you are having to communicate with people, you are having to be efficient, and you're having to utilize organizational skills. And so I think that any experience that a student could get as a youth is beneficial to them in their future. Well, you know, we talked a lot about career pathways, and there's different, there's different paths for people post high school, so I'm going to college, so choose other options. But I think it's it's critically important that we celebrate students who pick the non college options in the same way as we celebrate the students that pick the college options. I think, you know, if you decide I want to be an apprentice and go into plumbing, or electrical, or whatever trade might be, we should celebrate that just like we celebrate somebody going off to Harvard, or Yale or University of Texas, because the people going into those occupations, they're fully engaged in learning, just like the students that go to college, and they are not going to incur any debt. And they're going to immediately begin to earn money, and build build a career. But it's important that we celebrate that so that students and the parents and the community at large gets gets the importance of what what these kids are doing, and why it's important. And it's important that we we celebrate and shout Hip Hip Hooray for the kids that are going into trades or going into advanced manufacturing or wherever, wherever they're going as ones that are going to go to college. Thank you LaKissa and Camille and Paul, for joining me today. I really appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation. And I hope we continue to have conversations like this again in the future. You can learn more about LaKissa Bright's work by going to her website Ladders 4 Leaders Dot Org. We'll continue the conversation on youth career exploration and hear from local employers in some upcoming episodes. Thanks so much for listening. The Future Ready NextForce Podcast is produced in Cedar Park and Round Rock, Texas. I'm your host Diane Tackett. You can learn about our programs services and check out labor market information by going to our website, Workforce Solutions RCA Dot Com. And you can listen to the show wherever you find your podcasts. The Future Ready NextForce Podcast.