The Jobless 20-Somethings…How the Arts are the Answer!

My entire career has focused on some aspect of the arts. Whether it was working for a film festival, coordinating arts workshops in schools or being a director of an arts camp. Lately, my focus has broadened to include a much bigger emphasis on leadership.

I have been a camp director for ten years, so leadership has always been important to me and has always been a large part of what we do at camp. However, with the trends I am seeing from the current generation I have made a conscious choice to incorporate leadership into all of my company’s programming.

Why? Because there is a lack of leadership skills in the younger generations and I believe it is affecting their ability to get jobs when they finish university or college. I have heard lots of different stats on the employment rates of recent grads. Forbes magazine says, “60% of 2012 high school grads are at risk of not succeeding in college or in a career”. I see young people struggling with communication skills, not taking accountability for their actions, not able to make a commitment and stick to it and having difficulty finding the focus and drive to find solutions to challenges.

There is even a Tide laundry detergent commercial airing right now that shows parents doing laundry for their unemployed, recent college grads who have moved back home. In the commercial the parents hope that with cleaner clothes their kids will be more ‘employable’. When a major brand like Tide is using the issue of jobless twenty-somethings living back home in an ad campaign, it must be a widespread problem. Maybe there are no jobs in the field that they studied, or perhaps they lack the leadership skills to make it past the interview. Whatever the reason, it is clear that young people have to adapt!

Developing leadership skills takes a lot of consistent practice. It is very much about trial and error. We have to test whether our approach is going to be successful and sometimes that is difficult, because it involves making mistakes. No one likes to fail. The great thing about the arts is they are taught in environments that encourage the exploration of possibilities. This is a perfect training ground for leadership development. The environment in which you practice leadership skills will largely determine how strongly they are developed. So, how does the creative environment in which the arts are taught encourage adaptability?

I’ll use myself as an example. Over the past two years I have become an avid salsa dancer. I absolutely love all the Latin dances and I’ve even participated in some competitions (Yes, I did get some first place wins for those who are curious). Salsa dancing has been a great opportunity for me to, not only develop my skills as a dancer, but also my skills in adaptability.

Salsa dancing typically has no choreography. You have a series of steps that you know, but you have to follow the lead of your dance partner, interpreting as you go which step comes next. You don’t discuss the steps before hand and decide on the order in which you’ll dance them. You just get on the dance floor and go. This took some getting used to. The number of mistakes I made is uncountable. But I had to stop counting and just keep trying. Every time I danced with someone new I was forced to instantly adapt and adjust my steps to meet his lead. In a salsa dance these changes can happen every few seconds!

After the hundreds of hours it takes to go from zero to winning a competition, I have developed a useful habit of rolling with the punches, going with the flow, changing with the wind, as they say. Change is now something that I come to expect. It is normal, so when it arrives I am not surprised and I adapt to whatever comes.

So let’s put the jobless twenty-somethings in salsa lessons…just joking…although, maybe that is a good idea. What they need now is to practice adapting and moving forward. In order for them to get off their parents’ couch they will need to try, and try again, and learn from each mistake. That is the only way they will be successful in this rapidly changing job market.