I took my first flight on a plane when I was 17.
We couldn't afford the ticket from Boston to visit Cornell University, but somehow my mom, a first-grade teacher and single parent of three, scraped together the money.
I almost didn't get on the plane -- I figured there was no chance I'd be accepted to a top school like Cornell. Imagine my surprise when I received financial aid and a scholarship to get through my first year, which led to my professional career that has included Xerox, Pepsi, Disney and Gap Inc.
My mom, who passed away from cancer at age 58, taught me that education was the great equalizer and the way out for me. That's why I'm so passionate about helping others find their paths, too.
As a society, we're in a complex situation right now. Thousands of people are struggling to find work. Young adults are trying to find ways to stay in school, graduate, then pay for college. The government is working hard to reduce unemployment.
Yet at the same time, companies are struggling to find qualified workers -- the wehireamerica site lists more than 250,000 positions around the country. ManpowerGroup's Talent Shortage Survey showed 49 percent of U.S. employers having a hard time filling important jobs last year. The hardest to fill are skilled trades, engineers, IT staff, sales representatives, accounting and finance staff, drivers and mechanics.
Work Under Way
I'm optimistic about the future, as nonprofits, colleges, government and business are working together more closely than ever.
- Opportunity Nation sponsored a panel discussion at the American Association of Community Colleges annual meeting this week, talking with college presidents from around the country about ways we can work together to create opportunities. We heard great feedback and support.
- Opportunity Nation's Opportunity Index is a tool that measures 16 indicators of economic, educational and community health. The Index found that the most powerful way communities can improve economic opportunity is to decrease the number of disconnected youth -- 16- to 24-year-olds who aren't in school or working.
- At Gap Inc., we've enjoyed working with Opportunity Nation, creating a toolkit for any company to use to provide youth with work and learning experiences.
- Gap Inc. also is proud of store managers who are holding workshops at 21 community colleges around the country to teach resume writing, interviewing, communicating and time management skills. Our Gap Inc. for Community Colleges program has trained 1,200 students so far, and we hire thousands of students per year.
- The Aspen Institute's Skills for America's Future initiative has created a national network of more than 300 partnerships among businesses, community colleges, industry associations, government, community-based organizations and labor.
- The HR Policy Association, representing hundreds of employers, has launched Jobipedia.org, where students and recent graduates can ask recruiters questions about interviewing, resumes and workplace behavior. Professional recruiters have posted more than 1,200 replies, and nearly 50 universities have links to the site.
Working together, we can help today's graduates, while finding jobs for the unemployed and veterans. We ask that you join one of these initiatives or find your own ways to help fill jobs.
Everyone deserves to have the support they need to start their journey.
This post is part of the ongoing coverage co-produced by The Huffington Post and Opportunity Nation highlighting solutions to the country's growing opportunity gap. The coverage utilizes the latter's Opportunity Index, the nation's first - and only - tool that measures the impact a geographic place has on each individual's economic mobility. It identifies a comprehensive set of indicators that, when taken together, measure the amount of opportunities available in communities. To see all the coverage so far, click here.