The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Working With Millennials

As I travel the country, I frequently overhear afterschool program directors (who appear to be age 40 or older) commiserating about the difficulties they have working with their youngest employees – those twenty-somethings that social psychologists are calling the millennials. Some of the descriptors I hear about the challenges are that these workers are uninterested in work, unprofessional, complacent, lazy, carefree, late to work, always multitasking, and more. There are some obvious generational disconnects.  That may be nothing new.

I am sure there were plenty of issues raised when my generation, the babyboomers, entered the workforce, especially during the tumultuous late 60 and early 70s. After all, we thought nothing about bringing our freewill spirit, long hair, and wearing hippy attire complete with dirty bellbottom jeans and sandals to work. We were young and oblivious to what our elders thought, or cared.

The millennials go by many names - Generation Y, Generation Next, or the Echo Boomers (yes, many millennials are boomers’ kids.) This group generally is said to be born from 1982 through the early 2000s. They’ve been pampered by doting parents who structured their lives to take advantage of increasing numbers of learning and social experiences. Television, computers, the Internet, and myriad digital communication devices have shaped their outlook, behaviors, and skills. Millennials text message more than they talk. In their world, there are always unlimited minutes. As a group, they are bright, cheerful, cooperative, and display a “can-do” attitude about tasks at work. Yet, to afterschool program leaders, many are presenting an “I-don’t-want-to-do-this-type-of-work” attitude.

So what is research revealing that can help our older leaders when working with millennials?

Be patient. Tolerate differences and try to understand. Because of their schooling, many millennials feel that they are better suited for higher-level work above entry positions. They appear unwilling or unable to start at the bottom and work their way up. They view grunt work as something other people should do. They don’t buy into the concept of paying one’s dues.  They expect to work hours that fit their schedule, not the other way around. The reality is that many can jump right in and succeed.  But not all.

When hiring and working with millennials, make sure expectations are very clear. Don’t make demands that won’t work. To avoid conflicts and unhappiness, allow for flexibility and teamwork. Provide constant feedback.

Embrace the millennials’ love for technology. Encourage them to use it. Challenge them with new assignments and teach them about the importance of professional credibility. Remember, this group’s constant connection to technology will keep them linked to it while performing their jobs more than their older coworkers.

From an early age, millennials have learned, been allowed, and even been encouraged to be multitaskers.  They will easily become distracted. They must be provided parameters of when, where, and how they can multitask at work, especially when working with children and youth. They must be taught about the dangers and mistakes that multitasking can create in their work performance.

Millennials also want to know why an activity is important before they listen to what must be done. When asking these questions, they aren’t being defiant. They just want to know their role in the grand scheme of things. We need to help them discover their reason to care. When asked, explain the why.

Millennials are the future of afterschool. They value a balance between work and life, rewards, achievement, attention, simplicity, informality, meaning, and multitasking. They bring fresh perspective to an afterschool setting many grew up in when younger. We must accept their values and create a work culture that is millennial-friendly. We must adapt behaviors and learn skills that engage them. Babyboomers must accept millennials without bias, communicate and connect with them, and establish meaning and accountability in their work. Direct those who appear unfocused and indifferent.

Millennials are creative, generous, educated, and enjoyable. Without doubt, babyboomers and those of other generations wanted to be viewed by our first employers in much the same way. We came to work expecting our unique differences to be accepted. 

Nothing is new.

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

Friday, October 21, 2011

Develop Your Network

As an afterschool leader, you've probably heard this advice numerous times - get out and network. But you might not know how or where to begin. Maybe it’s been suggested to you to keep track of people you meet, add their contact information into a database, and have a presence and be sociable at professional events. Some think that networking involves nothing more than collecting friends on Facebook or making connections on LinkedIn. Too many never learn how to move beyond meeting people to effectively make their networking experiences work for them. It's unfortunate that people are not provided with extensive training about how to develop a network.

NAA wants to help.

Developing a professional afterschool network is more than keeping track of people you've met or know in the field. To be effective, your network must consist of people who not only know you, but also like you and trust you. People in a close knit network will always have you in the back of their minds - and they'll watch your back. They genuinely want to see you succeed.

To develop an effective networking, people need to be able to see you as an individual willing to give as much or more than you receive.

Networking is not about keeping score of how many contacts you can collect to serve your own self interests. It is not about who owes someone else for some favor. Successful networkers have influence and attain it by placing others' interests first. They know how to be a friend, care for people, and make others feel good about themselves. They become magnetic.

Networking is a cycle of giving and receiving.  You put something in, and you receive in return. Your true worth is determined by how much you give compared to how much you take from others.

Come to the 2012 NAA National Convention in Dallas where you will be provided numerous opportunities and the best platform to develop a network on a national scale. Connect with those who do what you do, give of yourself, and great things will happen professionally as a result.

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Penny Debate

Recently, on a flight to Florida to attend the FASA Fall Conference, while reading Southwest Airlines’ travel journal, Spirit Magazine, I saw a picture of a piggybank with the heading "it costs 1.8 cents to make a penny.” Since that made no sense to me, I was compelled to read further. Did you know, according to the U. S. Mint's 2010 Annual Report[1], that rising costs of zinc and copper have made it impossible for the government to make a penny for less than one cent? And it costs 9.2 cents to make a nickel! The government lost $27.4 million last year just making pennies. Even more making nickels! And this has been happening for nearly 5 years!

I don't know about you, but this bothers me. Can't anyone in our national government (or private citizen groups) rise up and stop this example of economic waste and bleeding? Why does the great penny debate need to continue?

Still bothered, I began contemplating how the great penny debate impacts afterschool. What could we as a profession (especially our nonprofits) do with what's being lost making these outdated coins? You can only imagine. But you can also likely agree that, like the government, our professional would benefit if we could eradicate outdated practices.  But change is hard (and obviously long overdue for the pennies and nickels that constitute change in our pockets).

So I began (and I want you to join me here) thinking about how many wasteful and outdated practices we have forced upon us and tolerate burdening our profession. For starters, the hidden costs of required trainings, licensing, compliance costs, outdated paperwork (much of which could be automated) come to mind. But like the government, and perhaps because of it, we throw money down the drain without questioning, changing, and eliminating practices that are no longer practical or cost effective.  In many cases, afterschool programs are caught in a bind, forced to continue charging similar rates and provide services that are more expensive than the actual costs of supplies and resources.

Like me, maybe you didn't know that in today's world it cost more to make a penny than it is actually worth. Seems like an insignificant issue until it adds up. I know I’ve never complained about it until now, and I doubt you haven't either. But if we all joined forces and persistently voiced our outrage at this great penny debacle, I bet we could affect change (and not just in pennies and nickels).

We could certainly make change (in dollars) by speaking out more on the cost prohibitive practices impacting afterschool. What are we worth? How much more does it cost to do what we do than what we receive in return? How are we relevant?  How are needed in a bigger scope of business and education?

Join me in raising a multitude of great money debate questions related to school and afterschool. It's unlikely that we’ll get lots more money, but not improbable. If we do nothing, change is unlikely. And while we raise questions and re-evaluate, we can focus on ways to save, do our work more efficiently, and discard practices that no longer have value.

Together, we can make change.

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Finishing Strong

One of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I was a junior in high school. To end the year, our school had scheduled an outdoor field day complete with games, sporting events, and races for all levels of competitors. Because the seniors had already graduated, like many of my classmates, I was discovering the new-found arrogance of being a senior – at the top!

Because I had always been lean and lanky, running had become sport while my brothers excelled at football and basketball. So for our field day, I entered the one mile run. As I considered the competition, I presumed that I would do well – and maybe win the race.

The race consisted of four laps around the high school track. I hadn’t trained that spring, but because my legs felt good, I quickly rushed out to the front to take the lead – and by a considerable distance after the first lap.

At the halfway mark, the burning cramps began. The lead that I had built  gradually started to erode.  My pace slowed, and those who had been applauding my prowess suddenly began cheering for the slower (and smarter!) runners to catch me.  I can remember the looks on the faces of some of my friends and teachers as I passed them in the stands on the third lap. During the fourth lap, with most of the runners passing by me, I had slowed to almost a crawl. I finished dead last – embarrassed – yet I somehow summoned the strength, despite severe pain, to complete the race.

Years later, I realized that I learned some very good lessons that day.  We learn from our mistakes. Training is essential. Pacing is the key to long term success. Patience is a virtue.

I’ve always wanted to go at a fast pace. Many times, my mother admonished my impulsiveness by reminding me that, because of my rush to be born, she barely reached the hospital. As an educator, going too fast often confused my students. My insistence to complete tasks quickly came off as aloofness and arrogance with my colleagues. Even today, when I feel the urge to rush, I’m reminded of my infamous race. As difficult as it was, I learned that pacing coupled with continuous training, especially at the end of the race, is essential for success. By picking myself up, dealing with my humiliation, and facing my friends, I learned a lesson about perseverance.

Every child must learn the lessons I’ve shared. They are an integral part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ found within every school and afterschool program - not easy to experience from books. They must be lived, as painful as they might be. We’ll all get knocked down. With training, we’ll learn how to get back up.

Even as adults, we must never lose sight of the value of continuous training. It might be uncomfortable to sit in a class. It’s not fun to practice and prepare while others appear to play. But we can’t expect to effectively lead others unless we have prepared ourselves to do so.

Today, I continue to run for my health. I’m not as fast as I used to be decades ago, but I’m proud that I’m still working at it, long after many others have hung up their shoes. But more imperative to me now is the importance of maintaining the strength and endurance of my mind. To succeed until the end, I have to train it. So I read, write, think, speak, and welcome opportunities to learn with others. I train and practice every day. My goal is to finish strong.

Like me, you may wonder what lies ahead. You may doubt if you are up for the race. But I can assure you, getting to the finish line isn’t what matters most. Conditioning in order to enjoy the run is much more important. Let’s enjoy training - together. Our ultimate goal will be to finish strong.

Paul G. Young, Ph. D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association