Looking for Community-Builders: Infrastructure Careers are Lifetime Work

Looking for Community-Builders: Infrastructure Careers are Lifetime Work

(Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., Founder, “Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure+”)

Last year, we launched “Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure+”(iyai+), a national educational nonprofit with the goal of helping to address the high-risk next generation workforce development challenges facing our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors (www.iyai.org).    This is a challenge of major proportions for women, people of color, and our most vulnerable youth — who continue to be significantly under-represented across our nation’scritical infrastructure sectors– most notably, transport, water, energy, communications, information technology,  and advanced manufacturing.  

Unlocking this untapped potential presents a big opportunity to invest in a 21stcentury infrastructure and economy that is sustainable, resilient, smart, inclusive – and enjoyed by every American.  Our Mission is to do all that we can to nationally progress this work and accelerate results.

Why the major challenge attracting (and retaining) youth to infrastructure careers?  After 40 years in the public transport sector, working in communities across the country, I am absolutely convinced that beyond significantly expanded educational access and investment, “WE” need to take four (4) important actions.   

  • Reframe our image and narrative to one of “community-builders”– centered around “what” we do, anchored in “values” and “outcomes” – the ”+” in iyai.
  • Raise the bar to inspire, excite, and actively engageour youth in meaningful “hands-on” interactive community engagementexperiences – as an integral element  of their STEAM/STEM classroom experience. 
  • RESPECTand UTILIZE the considerable“learned experience” of our youth.
  • Finally, strengthen and expand“career-focused” partnerships throughout the school yearto include quality work-study internship and mentoring opportunities.

IYAI+’s partnerships-based, cross-sectoral approach is by design.   Today’s profoundly changing, and increasingly interdependent world requires rethinking the career-readiness  education, skills, experiences, and exposures necessary for the 21st century.  Working collaboratively, we have an opportunity to expose youth to a much broader range of career opportunities and help anchor them in lifetime values and transferable skills that will increase their personal readiness, leadership skills, and overall civic engagement.

This Summer, in partnership with Cardozo TransSTEM Academy(District of Columbia Public Schools), our Platinum Sponsor, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA); and  30+ public, private-sector and nonprofit organizations representing a cross-section of infrastructure sectors – we successfully completed a six-week “Introduction to Infrastructure Careers – Gateway to Opportunity”summer pilot program with a cohort of seventeen 11thand 12thgraders.   

Working with Industry Sector Coordinators from APTA, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, DC Department of Transportation, DC Water, DC Energy and Environment and DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), Energy & Environment Consulting, HDR, HNTB, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), the Program included classroom instruction, industry speakers, mentoring sessions, and offsite tours of major infrastructure facilities and sites throughout the DC metropolitan area.   

In collaboration with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and JusticeHarvard Law School, we were extremely pleased to introduce a “My Beloved Community” transformative justice initiative which provided students with the opportunity to apply their class and learned experience to “Tell Their Story” as docu-shorts– giving voice to the impact of critical infrastructure on their personal household, community, and society.  And, as importantly, share what they intend to do to make a positive difference.  

As a “teaser” – the pilot Program feedback from our students is in – “ALL” extremely positive! That said, be assured – we are not resting on any laurels.  And, will work with our many participants to refine, continuously improve, and enhance our offerings.A final thought.   For the most part, we’re still very much working from a 20thcentury script to do a 21stcentury job of attracting and retaining our next generation infrastructure leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and critically important skilled workforce – our future“community-builders”.  It’s time to move beyond our individual siloes and comfort zones —  Be Bold, Think Bigger – Reframe, Retool, Partner and Expand the Tent!