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COVID-19 and Building the Skills of the Next Generation

6 minutes to read

Young people around the world are feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as summer internships, co-op work placements, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, and summer exchange and leadership development programs are being cancelled abruptly.  This change, while necessary to help slow the spread of COVID-19, leaves many young people (particularly recent post-secondary graduates) at an unexpected pause in their career and skill-building at a crucial turning point in their professional careers. 


These summer work cancellations also disproportionately impact young people who don’t have the option of independently continuing their professional development by paying for expensive certification programs or courses, and young people who cannot afford to take on unpaid internships to build up experience while facing increasing economic instability. 


While the world grapples with the immediate and tragic loss from COVID-19, we want to encourage those who are able to think about how they will support the next generation in becoming the leaders we will need to help move beyond this crisis. 


At Student Energy, we have worked for years to develop effective, virtual programming. Here are some lessons learned that may be able to help you support young people as well. 


Reduce barriers to skill-building and professional development programs 

Student Energy’s mission is to empower young people to take action on transforming the energy system, and one way we do this is by providing programs and opportunities that build critical soft skills like strategic planning, fundraising, communication, and project management skills, while building a strong global community of mentors, partners and energy experts that they can collaborate with. One of the reasons these programs have been uniquely effective (particularly from a global perspective) is that we develop them with the goal of reducing as many barriers as possible. Many of our programs, like the Student Energy Leaders Fellowship or the Greenpreneurs incubator, come at no cost for participants. These programs are also delivered entirely virtually, allowing young people to participate who are typically left out of these types of opportunities due to travel costs, conference and accommodation fees, and tuition fees. 


A digital program helps eliminate costs, but can only be truly effective at building skills if participants receive the same level of one-on-one coaching, community support, personalized team development, and learning opportunities that they would receive in an in-person course. Student Energy has designed a number programs that successfully bring together and support global cohorts of young people. This year, for our inaugural Leaders Fellowship, we have built this community by devoting staff time to frequent one-on-one check-ins, coaching calls, group mentorship webinars from global energy experts, and by providing core energy education content, and robust strategic planning and project management tools that our teams use to stay engaged throughout the 10-month program.


While young people are often thought to be disengaged, in reality they have been highly engaged throughout this program, and we are always surprised how much young people can get out of a conversation with the right mentor to further their initiatives.


How can you support young people right now?

If you have a program or course that is primarily digital, consider offering it for free to young people this year.


If you are a mentor or subject matter expert who would like to contribute your time, Student Energy has a cohort of young people who would like to meet with you. Contact marcus (at) studentenergy.org if you are interested.


Hire young people this summer 

If you are an employer or work for an organization that can create capacity to hire young people on for the summer, now is the time to create those opportunities. It may seem risky to hire people you don’t know to join you in a  remote setting, but now is an important time to take that chance. 


In addition to offering programs to build young people’s skills, Student Energy has a long history of working with paid student assistants. Each manager works with one student who helps to alleviate the workload on their plate. This program builds a lot of capacity for each of our assistants and frees up tons of management time - it’s a true win win! 


As you face capacity or budget constraints this summer, think about hiring students. Students can move projects along while your management team deals with pressing priorities under these constantly changing circumstances. 


If your organization hasn’t had experience hiring young people on and doing so quickly, Student Energy can help. Throughout our eleven year history, we have been creating paid positions (both temporary and longer-term) for young people that provide meaningful skill-building and professional development experience while supporting our organization’s long-term goals. We encourage you to also consider how you can attract talented young people from typically disadvantaged or marginalized backgrounds in your outreach recruitment strategy, to ensure that opportunities are spread beyond prospective applicants that already have the necessary professional networks and connections.