- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

An adolescence welfare organization has started a national youth campaign to ensure that the future work force starts now to prepare itself for the challenges ahead.

The Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit organization based in the District, began its Ready by 21 Challenge yesterday. Initially, the challenge’s goals are to support and expand “big-picture” change makers who are already working in the communities by “getting them the information, tools and visibility” they need.

Youth issues are often overlooked, organizers said, especially at the national level.

Former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who is co-chairman of the challenge, said for instance that presidential candidates tend to ignore education issues of children because youth has less political weight in society.

“People aged 65 or above are able to vote, and kids don’t vote,” he said.

“It means there is a lot more to talk about on Social Security or Medicare to seniors because they are likely to vote,” Mr. Gephardt said.

Karen Pittman, co-founder of the forum, said more needs to be done to help youths prepare for college and employment.

Although President Bush just signed an executive order that aims to improve the coordination of youth programs, Ms. Pittman said it is only the first step toward the solution.

“That’s definitely a piece of what needs to happen, it’s been modeled more effectively at a state level,” she said, “but it’s the question of how strong the charge is. If the charge is just to coordinate and keep each other informed, that’s better than nothing.”

Ms. Pittman said it’s crucial to bring people to the table and introduce specific challenges and goals. By setting up a five-year goal to have leaders in every state to further identify and prioritize youth issues — such as college dropouts and teen pregnancy — she said people could come up with different solutions and ultimately shape the public agenda.

Organizers say part of the urgency is a result of the decreasing quality of future work force, which has been a concern for the business community.

According to a 2006 joint study by Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Conference Board, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management, employers found major deficiencies at every educational level.

In the report, more than 40 percent employers view high school graduates as deficient. It is also the greatest category of concern from 400 employers surveyed across the country. Specifically, employers cited problems with written communications, professionalism and critical thinking.

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