A Journey, in Reverse…

Workforce education

About two weeks ago and in a span of several days, I unexpectedly and without planning traveled in reverse as if sitting with Michael J. Fox, in the movie Back to the Future’s, time altering DeLorean. It all started in my going as far West to the sands of the Pacific and working my way back home East, in motion, spirt, mind and body, culminating at a graduation event in witness of perseverance, sacrifice and dreams—reflecting on my own commencement several decades ago.

The American Association of Community College’s (AACC) Workforce Development Institute, a gathering of the most prominent industry, academic and government influencers is where I started, representing Pearson’s interest on global employability and career success. As customary, I engaged in meeting new colleagues, gauging the pulse of the day’s issues and presenting on the ethos of collaboration, partnerships and alignment across the “supply” and “demand” workforce development value chain around the world and in the United States. Only this time I heard and felt a greater sense of frustration among colleagues attempting to bridge the gap across the “value chain.” There’s hope that the federal authorization of the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act will enable greater coordination and engagement, but seeing is believing is what I walked away from this years’ WDI conference.

A few days after the conference on a crisp early morning, I left my office and boarded a PATH train from Hoboken, NJ into New York City’s 9th street station toward my day’s commitment. The train moved as one more amongst thousands in my life and career journey, but suddenly something came upon me–shaken and enveloped in a rushing flood of nostalgic familiarity. I was on the same train and from the same station to the same stop where I had traveled as a newly married and very young professional decades earlier. I walked the same streets and to the same NYU campus grounds as I did three nights weekly for three years while working a full-time job, and commuting from my first job in Central New Jersey where evenings turned into late nights and early mornings.

Reminiscent of this personal pursuit while in journey to NYU was surreal as I felt the ice under my feet crossing Washington Square Park about to partake in the YearUp-New York graduation ceremony. There I was, at my alma mater so many years later sitting in the rear of this warm and beautiful wood paneled auditorium, thinking of my journey in observation of proud family, friends, and staff scurrying about in preparation for the main event. A spectacle in celebration of young, inspirational and passionate young adults whose lives had faced challenge, despair and struggle too early–only to be channeled onto a path of personal enrichment and purposeful beginnings in their careers. I could not help but draw parallel between my recent experience and conversations at the WDI conference, my journey down memory lane and streets of yesteryear and ultimately in witness of this very real demonstration of triumph above adversity. Student after student and story after story about life before YearUp a mere year before they started the program but now–walking across stage with heads held high onto jobs with the most revered private and public institutions like Goldman Sachs, Citi, and so many others.

As I left the building on my way back to the office, I continued to process what I’d just experienced in a week’s time and why, why, why do we adults continue to gather in places all over this world to discuss and belabor in awe our inability to bridge the gaps while students with a collection of life’s challenges could overcome and demonstrate so vividly. A flush of reasons, studies and reports may well defend why it’s become so hard but for today, I selfishly decided to draw from this experience the energy, motivation and inspiration to think of creative and new ways to empower young learners on their path to work.

I got off the train in Hoboken, NJ and as if the doors of that DeLorean time machine opened from a few decades back to the present–realized that I had experienced my past but also bit of the future as well.