#ThankATeacher for Shaping the Future

Laura Lucas was my high school English teacher, and without her, I probably would not have made it through high school. She invested time and interest in me when I was quick to push almost anyone else away. She challenged me academically and personally and was a steady source of encouragement and inspiration. One keen memory I have is finding out I got a perfect score on the English section of the ACT. She drove me in 36 circles around the school parking lot, honking and cheering. More than 12 years later, I still keep in touch with her and consider her my mentor.

Think back to a teacher who changed you. Almost all of us can name a teacher who played a role in our academic, personal, or professional development—someone who inspired us to pursue an educational or vocational path or who helped us navigate the sometimes rough waters of childhood or young adulthood. This week, May 7–13, is National Teacher Appreciation Week, with National Teacher Day on May 9—“a day of honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives.”

Teacher Appreciation Week Graphic

Every year, students spend approximately 1,000 hours in school, placing teachers in a position to profoundly influence their students. At all levels of education, positive relationships between teachers and students provide long-lasting benefits. According to the American Psychological Association, supportive relationships with teachers result in higher levels of academic achievement and contribute to students’ social skills. Teacher-student relationships also boost students’ self-esteem and increase their confidence in their academic and vocational futures (Gallagher). With teachers’ encouragement and support, students thrive.

Education is a vocational choice that offers both profound rewards and an ongoing positive career outlook. As of 2014 in the United States, 3.7 million teachers lead our primary and secondary students, and 1.5 million faculty work in post-secondary education. Elementary school teachers earn a median pay of $55,490 a year and can expect a 6% increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024. High school teachers earn a median pay of $58,030 a year, and also can anticipate 6% job growth between 2014 and 2024. Finally, postsecondary teachers earn a median pay of $75,430 a year, with a projected 13% job growth between 2014 and 2024. We will always need educators who are passionate about shaping future generations and willing to offer personal support to help students succeed in and out of school.

This week, take time to show teachers your appreciation. You could:

  • Use the hashtag #ThankATeacher in social media this week, especially on National Teacher Day (May 9).
  • Contact one of your previous teachers and tell them why they were important to you.
  • Give your kids’ teacher a small gift or write a note of appreciation.
  • Volunteer in your kids’ classroom.
  • Leave a comment on this post about a teacher who influenced you.

Ringing in the New Year: Five Professional Resolutions for 2017

Lose weight. Get organized. Spend less, save more. Enjoy life to the fullest. Stay fit and healthy. These are the top five New Year’s resolutions according to a study by the Journal of Clinical Psychology. While resolutions to do yoga every morning or to eat more vegetables are undeniably good goals, commitment to make changes in your professional life may hold equal or greater importance. The average person works 90,000 hours of their life, so a commitment to a change in your professional habits will noticeably affect the rest of your life.

Whether you are workforce professional staff, a job seeker, or an employer, we’ve identified five commitments to make in the upcoming year to improve your career:

  • Learn something new: Keep your skills relevant, your brain sharp, and your confidence up (“8 Benefits of Lifelong Learning”) by taking advantage of free online learning communities, where you can take classes on almost any topic. Many top schools like Stanford, MIT, or Harvard offer free courses, some with optional professional certification.
  • Read more: Reading improves your intellect and emotions and can be a great way to take a break and reset. You may think you have no time to read, but stolen moments—like waiting for a friend to arrive or for the coffee to be ready—equal pages read. If you read two pages a minute, and you have 60 minutes of spare time throughout your day, you can have a 300-page book read in 10 days (Khim). Don’t want to carry around a book? Try free reading apps like Kindle or OverDrive that offer a great selection of free ebooks and audiobooks.

    The Math of Reading in Small Chunks
    Picture from HubSpot
  • Listen to a podcast: If you can’t find time to sit down with a book, try listening to a podcast. Podcasts are great for daily commuting or traveling, and with plenty of great podcasts dedicated to business, you’ll be up to date with the latest news and topics.
  • Be a mentor: Do you have mentors in your life? If you do, you likely know how important they can be in your career. Well, it’s time to turn the tables and become a mentor to someone else. Being a mentor means listening and offering support, and leading by example. Mentors don’t come in a specific size, shape, or age; even younger employees can be mentors.
  • Take breaks: Short breaks throughout the day increase your concentration, alertness, and productivity, while decreasing your stress, aches and pains, and eye strain. Stand up, stretch, walk around, get a healthy snack, doodle, or read a few pages. Set a timer so you know when to stop for a few minutes; the Pomodoro Cycle suggests you take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes, then a 30-minute break after four sessions.

    One Pomodoro Cycle
    Picture from FastCompany

Whether you’re helping someone find a job, seeking a job yourself, or running a business, following through on these five commitments will result in a more positive work experience filled with opportunities to learn and grow. But don’t limit yourself to our five suggestions; make a list of your own professional resolutions. Check out the following articles offer for more ideas, and let us know in the comments what professional resolutions you’ve made for 2017.

AJL Works with Veterans: Transitioning from Military to Civilian Careers

November 11 marks Veterans’ Day, a day dedicated to honoring American service members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, American veterans numbered 21.2 million, and of those, 495,000 were unemployed. As workforce development professionals, assisting veterans in transitioning from military to civilian careers is an important service we can offer to honor our vets.

A recent “Veterans in the Workplace” report, published by Hiring Our Heroes on November 2, 2016, surveyed 400 human resource professionals and 1,000 recently transitioned veterans. The survey found that veterans who began their job search at least six months prior to leaving active duty had the most success in transitioning from military to civilian careers. In entering the job market, surveyed veterans reported difficulty deciding what career path to pursue, lack of communication from hiring managers, and insufficient resources or contacts.

As those who use our system know, America’s JobLink (AJL) is a great tool for recruiting and assisting veterans seeking employment. Job orders are posted in accordance with Veteran’s Priority of Service settings (which are customizable by state), so employers can be confident that veterans and covered persons have first access to job listings. Resumes from veterans and covered persons are easily identified using filters to return veterans and by icons next to resume titles. With specialized reports tracking self-service and staff-assisted veterans, other eligibles, and covered persons, workforce center staff can easily identify who needs to be contacted and who has been receiving services.

Sergio Estrada graphic
Sergio Estrada from Illinois Department of Employment Security–Thank you for your 27.5 years of service in the Marine Corps!

America’s Job Link Alliance (AJLA) Steering Committee member, Sergio Estrada, Manager of Federal Performance Reporting for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, retired as a Marine Sergeant Major after 27.5 years of active duty and has worked with veterans in the workforce for 11 years. We asked him a few questions about working with veterans. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What was your experience transitioning from a military to civilian career? What was most helpful during your transition?

A: My experience was good. The Transition Assistance Program (TAP)—which provides employment and training information to armed forces members within 180 days of separation or retirement—conducted at Great Lakes Naval Base was very helpful. The coordinator had a speaker from the Illinois Department of Employment Security who briefed those attending on the issues we were facing transitioning from military to civilian life, as well as how to register for the State Labor Exchange, write resumes, and interview for jobs. With those resources, a week after I retired from the Marines, I was employed with the State Department of Veterans Affairs.

Q: What would you say to a workforce staff member who’s new to working with veterans?

A: Listen to the veteran and try putting yourself in their shoes.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to veterans finding employment?

A: Pride! Most veterans hate failing. They feel that they can do it alone without the help of others.

Q: If you were to organize a workshop for veterans who are seeking employment, what would you focus on?

A: Inform the veterans that we are there to guide them throughout the process, and there’s nothing wrong with seek help.

Q: What resources do you find most helpful to refer vets to?

A: Federal and State Veterans’ Assistance (VA) benefits, such as VA home loans, and state and federal education assistance, and TAP’s employment services presentations on the military base.

This Veterans’ Day, let’s be especially mindful of service members who are transitioning from military to civilian careers. Every day, not just November 11, is an opportunity not just to thank a veteran, but also to offer our support and assistance as workforce center staff. Investing in the futures of veterans is the least we can do in return for their service.

Celebrating the American Workforce

You know it as a day off—a day to relax, probably grill out, maybe take a short road trip or save money on appliances or back-to-school sales. But Labor Day—the first Monday in September—celebrates the accomplishments of American industry. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, a time when the impact of the Industrial Revolution was manifesting itself in labor strikes and rallies—workers coming together to demand safer and more humane working conditions with better pay. The late 19th century and early 20th century was a crucial time for establishing laws that regulated labor—from banning child labor to restricting the number of hours in a work day. (Read more about the history of Labor Day and the labor movement here and here.)

Labor Day Graphic

While conditions for American workers have drastically improved since the 1894, the U.S. Department of Labor is still working toward “building a shared prosperity for a stronger America”, focusing on the following topics:

  • A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work: Increasing the national minimum wage and providing overtime protection;
  • Providing a path to get ahead: Providing education and training for middle-class employment;
  • A job with family values: Balancing work­–home life;
  • A chance to succeed no matter where you start: Helping underserved, at-risk, and recently incarcerated individuals find employment; and
  • A voice in the workplace: Empowering workers to speak up about their needs.

So this Monday, while you’re enjoying the national holiday, think about how far we’ve come as a nation of workers, and look ahead to an even stronger workforce that celebrates equality and American values.