COVID-19 and Dropouts
Workers with high school or less account for nearly half of COVID-related job losses. Youth with less than high school are especially hard hit. With COVID-19 forcing a shift to virtual and hybrid learning models, more students may drop out. There are now over 1 million Canadian youth not in education, employment or training. Many more are in precarious, minimum wage jobs unrelated to their interests or education. The economic costs (i.e., social assistance, welfare, remedial healthcare, juvenile justice, crime and incarceration, lost productivity, lost taxes and lost local spending) are in the $10’s of billions annually. The human costs, measured in disappointment, depression, hopelessness, shame, violence, physical and substance abuse, broken families, dashed dreams, and lost human potential – are worse! There is no magic stay-in-school remedy, as frustrated teachers and disappointed parents can attest. But a compelling answer to “Why stay in school?” from an employer can change everything! True story ... A 15-year-old hated school. He seldom completed assignments and was disruptive in class. The only thing he looked forward to each day was hearing the final bell so he could go to his uncle’s garage to fix engines. This was his passion for as long as he could remember. He planned to drop out of school on his 16th birthday to pursue his passion full-time. Then he received a message from an off-road vehicle dealer through his school’s online portfolio system. It said “You might be the kind of person we are looking for. Would you like to come and see our facilities and meet some of our people?” His eyes lit up when he saw he was surrounded by people working on off-road vehicles. The company said, straight up, if he dropped school they would drop him. To be in their talent pipeline he would need to do well in school, particularly in Math and Science, and work on his people skills and character. They didn’t promise him a job. They did offer him access to a mentor and the possibility of experiential learning (job-shadowing, internships, part-time work) while in school. The next day in class he was a new person. He now saw high school as a bridge he needed and wanted to cross. His teachers and parents were awed by his transformation. When he graduated high school both he and the company agreed he was a fit. The company paid his tuition for a community college engine repair program then hired him full-time, student debt-free. When earnest advice from teachers and parents is insufficient, employers may offer students compelling reasons to stay in school. This can happen when strong connections exist between school and community so students with special talents can meet employers needing those talents. Many students drop out, often for reasons beyond their control. I am proud of the Lions Club Ladder-Up program I am helping establish to give dropouts a ladder up to good jobs with local employers.