- Leila Toplic

When I was 18-years-old I landed my first job teaching English and art in a Bosnian refugee camp in Hungary. What I lacked in teaching skills, I made up for with passion and grit. I worked tirelessly to find creative ways to engage my students in learning these subjects both in and out of the classroom. I even went so far as to organize a basketball camp with the American International School in Budapest so refugee youth could learn English through their teamwork and passion for sports. The school headmaster saw these qualities in me, which is why she gave me a chance.

I learned so much — both personally and professionally — in my role as a teacher and I never would have had that opportunity if I hadn’t had an employer who believed and invested in me. This is why I’m so honored to now have a job with LRNG, an effort that turns learning into lifestyle by enabling youth to connect passions to careers for the 21st century.

LRNG recognizes that no one institution can provide all the learning opportunities that young people need to prepare for life and work in the 21st century. LRNG invites all stakeholders to join the movement — including schools, community institutions such as libraries and museums, businesses and nonprofit organizations. As I discovered in my first job, learning can and does happen everywhere and all the time.

On February 26th, I joined LRNG CEO Connie Yowell at the White House Summer Opportunity event to discuss LRNG’s work to close the summer “opportunity gap” for our nation’s youth. We’re excited to help take on this massive issue, but we know it’s one we can’t take on alone. We need employers to join us in this effort.

Today, employers have a critical role to play in getting young people on the right track, with the right skills, for success in the 21st century workplace. Last year, 38% of U.S. employers couldn’t fill jobs because they couldn’t find workers with the right sets of skills.

This skill set gap is frustrating for employers — but it can be devastating for young job seekers when the “summer opportunity gap” turns into lifelong gaps in educational and workforce achievement. That’s why this summer, LRNG will join One Summer Chicago, MHALabs and many other organizations across the country to connect youth to learning and employment opportunities. Using LRNG’s national platform, our Summer Jobs and workforce development programs can connect youth to Playlists — immersive sets of learning experiences — that enable youth to learn workforce competencies such as collaboration and problem solving, as well as practical skills such as financial literacy, coding and game design.

In addition, LRNG will support the White House-led Opportunity Project, which was announced just this morning. As part of this open data effort to improve economic mobility for all Americans, LRNG will equip young people with data science skills through a Civic Tech playlist that also will help prepare them to serve their communities.

Young people who successfully complete Playlists like Civic Tech will earn digital badges to document their learning. They can use digital badges to demonstrate their achievements on resumes and college applications.

There is no simple solution to improving the talent pipeline. It will require a multi-sector approach, with employers playing a key role. There are a number of ways employers can work with LRNG and our ecosystem to develop the workforce of tomorrow.

Join our corporate content partners — including EA, Fossil and Gap — who are working with LRNG to co-design Playlists and digital badges that enable youth to learn industry skills and workforce competencies.
Provide opportunities for youth who complete Playlists. This can include everything from a chance to Skype with an expert or visit your workplace for a job shadowing opportunity to having access to the tools required for the job.
Offer internships or dedicated summer jobs at your workplace.
Employers can take the lead in tackling the talent shortage by growing the workforce skills of today’s youth. I hope you’ll join LRNG as we work to make 2016 a summer of achievement for our nation’s youth.

I’ll be at SXSW this week, and I’d love for you to join me there to discuss how we can work together to close the opportunity gap for young people in our communities.

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