Looking for Community-Builders: Infrastructure Careers are Lifetime Work
In 2018, the “Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure+ (iyai+)” nonprofit was launched. Iyai+ is a national educational nonprofit tasked with the goal of helping to address the high-risk, next-generation workforce development challenges facing our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors. It matters particularly because women, people of color, and our most vulnerable youth, continue to be significantly under-represented across infrastructure; most notably, transportation, water, energy, communications, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.
Unlocking this untapped potential presents a significant opportunity to invest in 21st-century infrastructure in order to build an economy that is sustainable, resilient, smart, inclusive and enjoyed by every American. Iyai+’s mission is to do all that we can to nationally progress this goal and accelerate results.
Without a doubt, attracting and retaining youth in infrastructure careers is a major challenge. After 40 years in the public transport sector and working in communities across the country, I am absolutely convinced that beyond significantly expanded educational access and investment, four important actions are critical:
- Reframe our current image and narrative to one of community-builders centered around what we do, anchored in values and outcomes (the ”+” in iyai).
- Raise the bar to inspire, excite, and actively engage our youth in meaningful “hands-on” interactive community engagement as an integral element of their STEAM/STEM classroom experience.
- Respect and utilize the considerable “learned experience” of our youth.
- Strengthen and expand “career-focused” partnerships throughout the school year to include quality work-study internship and mentoring opportunities.
IYAI+’s approach is partnerships-based and cross-sectoral by design. Our profoundly changing and increasingly interdependent world requires rethinking the education (career-readiness focused), skills, experiences, and exposure necessary for the 21st century. Working collaboratively, we have an opportunity to expose youth to a much broader range of career opportunities and help anchor them in lifetime values and transferable skills that will increase their personal readiness, leadership abilities, and overall civic engagement.
In partnership with the District of Columbia Public Schools’ Cardozo TransSTEM Academy, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and more than 30 public, private-sector, and nonprofit organizations across infrastructure; we successfully completed a six-week Introduction to Infrastructure Careers – Gateway to Opportunity summer pilot program with a cohort of seventeen 11th and 12th graders.
Working with Industry Sector Coordinators—including APTA, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, DC Department of Transportation, DC Water, DC Energy and Environment, DC Sustainable Energy Utility, Energy & Environment Consulting, HDR, HNTB, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—the program included classroom instruction, industry speakers, mentoring sessions, and offsite tours of major infrastructure facilities and sites throughout the DC metropolitan area.
In collaboration with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice– Harvard Law School, we were extremely pleased to introduce a new initiative. “My Beloved Community”, a transformative justice initiative, provided students with the opportunity to apply their class and learned experience to tell their story as “docu-shorts” which gave voice to the impact of infrastructure on their households, communities, and society. And just as importantly, the students shared what they intend to do to make a positive difference. The feedback from our students was very positive and we will continue to work with our many participants to refine, continuously improve, and enhance our offerings.
A final thought. For the most part, we are still very much working from a 20th-century script to do the 21st-century job of attracting and retaining our next generation of infrastructure leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and community-builders. It is time to move beyond our individual siloes and comfort zones and Be Bold, Think Bigger – Reframe, Retool, Partner and Expand the Tent!