Guest Post: Keys to Building a Resilient Career

By Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, Executive Director & COO of The DeBruce Foundation

If you’re connected to the work of KC STEM Alliance, I suspect you care about helping young people build their future careers. You may have helped an individual better understand their strengths and interests, or helped them build their network of support. But did you know that there is research that shows these kind of efforts aren’t just nice to do, but are actually keys to building a resilient career? Let me tell you how.

As the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of The DeBruce Foundation, my team and I study the complexities of our workforce, and we equip individuals with the tools to find, pursue, and build successful careers. In the fall of 2020, The DeBruce Foundation initiated research to assess patterns of employment, income, and work conditions in America. After surveying 16,000 people, the research revealed crucial insights on how to build a resilient career, no matter how the workforce is trending. 

The research revealed that there are two keys to building a career with those attributes many of us are looking for: higher wages, better benefits, and less risk of unemployment. Those two keys are career literacy and network strength

Having career literacy includes having a vision for your career, self-awareness of your skills and interests, the capacity to communicate your professional value, robust job search skills, and the capability to explore multiple career pathways. Having a strong network means you have reliable connections with people spanning a diversity of industries, education levels, and social experiences. 

The research revealed that those who have high career literacy and network strength earn 55% more in annual salary and 26% more of them are currently employed, compared to people who are low in career literacy and network strength. 

The levels of career literacy and network strength in the US are sobering: 7 of 10 people don’t have what they need to build empowered careers. However, there is hope, and we see it playing out before our eyes, as organizations like KC STEM Alliance are helping youth build their career literacy and network strength. 

Building Blocks for Developing Career Literacy and Network Strength

KC STEM Alliance, in partnership with Kansas City metro school districts and businesses, engages 90,000+ youth in the programming they support, which strategically weaves in components of career literacy and network strength. Here’s a glimpse at their programs in action: 

When a student learns about a STEM career thanks to a mentor… they are increasing their career literacy and their ability to consider different career paths someday. 

A group of four high school students look on as a woman explains a civil engineering discipline in a table top exhibit

When a student builds a robot with their team through FIRST robotics…they’re exploring math, science, and technology skills they may have never used before. They’re developing an early idea of the skills and interests they might like to use in the workforce someday. 

Two high school girls wearing tiaras lift a robot numbered 5082 onto the playing field

When a student participates in Project Lead The Way, they get to be curious about how to solve problems that exist in real careers. They begin to understand more about work activities they like to do and are good at doing.

When a student learns from a trusted adult or connects with a teammate… they build a network that they can rely on, and that they can help in return, as they navigate the workforce. 

Every stage of life has opportunities, and the early years – way before a child is thinking seriously about careers – is a great time to start them on a path toward an empowered career. Youth organizations, and all who mentor, volunteer, and advocate for them, are vital in building stronger communities, an engaged workforce, and individuals with successful career pathways. 

To the young people who might be reading this: the skills you’re building, the interests you’re cultivating, and the network of mentors, friends, coaches, and trusted adults you have around you are valuable. Not only are they all important to your experiences today, but they are part of you building the future of your dreams. 

To the adults, mentors, and coaches: When you invest in a young person, you’re equipping them with the tools to build a bright future. I want to thank you for all you do, and I know our community does, too. Together, we can build empowered careers.

You can read more about the full Employment Empowerment Report and download a copy at The DeBruce Foundation website.