Raising a Resilient Generation
Today’s digital, diverse, and dispersed economy requires a workforce with many different personal qualities: curiosity, empathy, imagination, purpose, motivation, peacemaking, and especially resilience.
But someone’s first day on the job is a late start for developing these qualities.
The British have a saying: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton.” In other words, today’s leadership and success began years before, in schools. (Ignore for a moment Eton’s highly privileged status as an exclusive boarding school founded by Henry VI in 1440.)
If we want a resilient workforce in the future, we need to start raising a resilient generation in schools and families and communities.
The bad news is, we’re currently going in the wrong direction.
At the end of 2021, all sorts of alarm bells went off about youth mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a youth mental health alert. The Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics also, independent of and prior to the Surgeon General, issued similar alarms about youth mental health.
This crisis was building long before the pandemic, too. Do the math and that means we’re now starting to graduate cohorts from high school whose education, their workforce preparation, has been stunted for years.
Just as we offer school breakfasts and lunches so hungry kids can focus on learning, so too must we support kids who are angry, anxious, depressed, lonely, fearful, or self-doubting so they can learn with a clear head and a full heart.
Fortunately, there’s a way to get back on track for raising a resilient generation. There’s already a well-established and proven approach to teaching all those important skills like empathy and motivation and resilience. Educators call it Social-Emotional Learning or SEL. Educators know the term SEL, but most parents and businesses don’t.
The Surgeon General’s report specifically called for expanding SEL programs as part of a “whole of society” response to the youth mental health crisis. Currently, about 25 percent of schools offer some sort of systematic or comprehensive approach to SEL.
Our society’s all-hands-on-deck response must include businesses, as well. Business is a major way that we solve problems. There is great opportunity in solving great problems, as well. But more than that, it is in business’s self-interest to help kids go from mental health crisis to curious, empathetic, imaginative, motivated, and resilient. It’s how they’ll get the future workforce that they need.
Business answered a similar call to action starting around 2010. At the time, technology was rapidly accelerating. Everyone realized that we didn’t have a workforce that was fully literate in science, technology, engineering, and math. Educators call these the STEM subjects.
In the past dozen years, business has invested more than $1 billion in supporting STEM programs in schools and communities. STEM is now a household word. Local news shows have regular segments promoting STEM education. Businesses now enjoy a broader STEM labor pool, including more women and people of color, plus more STEM-literate customers for their products.
We need exactly this sort of business response to support raising a resilient generation. Businesses, parents, teachers, all of us need to support a STEM education movement for the heart—Social-Emotional Learning.
About the Author
Matthew Spaur is a marketing, strategic communications, and IT consultant with more than 20 years experience spanning many industries including enterprise software, education, HR, energy, and publishing. In many of these roles, he's focused on public sector and infrastructure opportunities.
Matthew earned an MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno and an MFA in Writing from Eastern Washington University.