So – it’s happening again.  As school starts for the year, the emphasis is very much on increasing the number of Native high school graduates.

How can one argue with that?  Our high school graduation numbers are far below the average of non-Native people; we all know that the gap in education attainment has a major impact on employment and earnings levels.

But, here’s the rub.  The focus on graduation, which is important for schools to show their success rates; which is important to tribal/band administrations to show they are using education dollars wisely and so should get more money for education; which is important for institutions of higher learning to justify the dollars they charge Native people and their funders; which is important for organizations tasked with providing training to show they understand the needs of their students and should be chosen over other similar organizations, et cetera, et cetera, is misplaced!

What about focusing on exactly what a high school graduation gives the student – not all high school diplomas are the same; just as not all high school graduates are the same.  What if we focused on the skills the graduate has learned during the years in school –

Here’s what happens in my experience. A close relative approached me with a question, “If I move to the City, will you give me a job?”

This young lady completed a Grade Twelve from an Adult Learning Centre over a period of two or three years.  In her early 20’s, she is a single mom with two children, who do not live in the same city as my business. No arrangements for housing or for her children have been made.

When I asked her what she could do for my business, her answer was ‘anything’. This is known as the ‘kitchen sink approach’. In other words, she does not know what my business does, nor what employers need so she offers to do anything.

Her work experience is limited to working part time for a few months in a Subway store.  She is able to use Facebook, twitter and instagram for her personal social connections.

And that takes me to the next challenge. As most employers do these days, I checked out the young ladies Facebook page. She has posted a photo of herself, partially nude. This is not the type of person I want to have associated with my business.

So what does any of this have to do with graduating from high school?

The goal for this young woman and others is this:  get high school graduation and doors will open for you.

Another close relative lives on a reservation.  It took her two extra years to graduate from high school, as she was dealing with numerous personal issues.

For both of these young women, there seems to be no goal setting, no plans for beyond obtaining the high school diploma, no understanding of how personal choices along the way impact their future.

In addition, there is a lack of understanding as to what employers need from employees or how to prepare properly to apply for a job, what strengths the applicant possesses and what he/she brings to contribute to an employer’s success.

How can one blame the school?  I have talked with several high school principals.  They struggle to get kids to come to school on a regular basis, try to provide food for them and have counselors who work with students individually.

These young women themselves have more drama in their young lives than most adults have in a lifetime.  Yet, there are many of us who have managed to overcome, and yes, I am one who did not get off to a particularly good start.

In this issue, you will read some of the story of Kenny Dobbs and how he managed to get on the right path.  He says change happens either through desperation or inspiration.

There are others, many others, old and young, who have turned their lives around.  And high school graduation is just one of several factors.

So maybe we need to change the focus! Do our educators agree that the point of education, high school or other, is to obtain skills which will allow the graduate to obtain employment?

Do our parents understand the importance of high school graduation?

Do the students hear the messages of educators and/or parents, or do they pay attention to their peers and the celebrities profiled in today’s media?

Is it up to employers to give applicants information that they do not have the required skills?  Employers do not necessary think this is their job, especially if it might be considered racist.

Do funders of Native students have a responsibility?

Do career counselors/services have an obligation – even if students do go to consult with them?

Do career counselors actually have career and/or job information that is current and relevant?  This is especially true if they themselves have not been an employer?

Who has the responsibility to provide awareness of competition for jobs? The number of jobs available (not enough and only in specific jobs) and the number of job seekers (many more than jobs available unless in very specific fields)?

That Native graduates are not entitled to a job just because they have graduated? That a high school diploma, or even a Bachelor’s degree, merely opens the door to a possible job, and are not a guarantee to a job?

That if there are no or few jobs in your home community, start in high school to prepare yourself to move where there are jobs?  All other people have to do this, e.g. other countries, people from areas with high unemployment.

L.C. Stanley and colleagues are available for training and presentations on Career Development for Native People by contacting SAY Magazine – 1.866.485.2380.