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OP-ED by Liz Dupont-Diehl and John Emra | May 6, 2016
Youth unemployment is at a record high, especially for urban and minority teenagers, and we know this impacts their lifetime earnings and prospects. Yet at the same time, AT&T and other businesses are struggling to find workers who have the mindset, habits, and skills to help us succeed.
Connecticut is implementing a proven solution to both of these problems. Teachers and guidance counselors at seven high schools throughout the state have a new resource available to them as they evaluate and help their students — JAG, short for Jobs for America’ Graduates. JAG is a national program that came to Connecticut in early 2015 and has already changed the life trajectories of dozens of students, with services shown over decades to have a lasting impact on their lifelong earnings and outcomes.
AT&T, both at the national level and in Connecticut, is a strong supporter of JAG for its proven ability to shape leaders and workers who are innovative, reliable and trainable. JAG identifies students in need of leadership development, and provides it — in the form of an elective credit class, teaching the life and professional skills in demand by employers, combined with mentoring, career guidance, and project-based learning. JAG also provides 12 months of follow up as part of its core services, helping students made the transition to the workplace, college or other training.
JAG CT students testify to and demonstrate the effectiveness of the program so far: They say JAG has changed their outlook, given them focus, and improved their grades in other classes. JAG CT is on track to meet ambitious graduation and outcome goals. Students describe how their Specialist cares about them, assists them in determining their life goals, and helps them with other critical areas of their lives, such as saving for college and managing a checking account.
This is no accident. JAG was created 35 years ago and since then has focused on research and outcomes, while developing its model on the knowledge that “at risk” students need a single, caring adult to educate and support them. JAG students receive training in life skills and positive experiences delivered by a dedicated JAG Specialist, who is with them throughout the JAG program and for 12 months after the student graduates from high school. JAG also has numerous systems of accountability built in to ensure programs throughout the country maintain quality.
AT&T has been a consistent and long-term supporter of JAG, contributing $2.55 million nationally this year alone, including nearly $60,000 in Connecticut, and serving on the JAG National Board of Directors, offering students mentoring and employment opportunities, and the opportunity to visit stores and learn about careers. We know that a small investment now in JAG yields us all valuable returns later, with workers who are able and ready to contribute to our company and the state’s economy. JAG has proven its worth over several decades, across 32 states. Governor Malloy was wise to bring JAG to CT, and should continue to support this proven program.
We know JAG’s successful operation pays for itself in less than three years — one review shows they pay for the program in as little as 14 months in sales and income taxes alone — because students who graduate from high school and have a successful career pathways are infinitely less likely to wind up in prison or otherwise use programs that will cost taxpayers money. JAG students are vastly more likely to go on to become productive employees and taxpayers and make a contribution to society rather than cost the state money through use of public benefits or incarceration.
As Governor Malloy and the legislature look to refocus the role of state government to prioritize needs and to programs that work, JAG serves as a good example of the value of public/private partnerships and return on investment.
Liz Dupont-Diehl is the Director of Jobs for America’s Graduates, CT, and John Emra is the Connecticut President of AT&T.