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Developing Future Leaders via Lifecraft

Hey, come take our employees!” You probably never thought you’d hear that from a CEO, right? But at Woodcraft Rangers, I want exactly that – to develop our employees so well that you take them from us! In our Lifecraft program, we support our most promising employees on their climb up the first rungs of their career ladders in a concerted effort to have them swept away into careers of their choice.
 
Woodcraft Rangers is a youth development agency that’s been serving young Angelenos since 1922. Every year we recruit and develop hundreds of young employees to deliver on our mission of guiding young people as they pursue pathways to purposeful lives.  

As an employer, we, of course, want our employees to thrive so they can deliver excellence, because the youth who participate in our afterschool and summer programs deserve it. But since youth development continues until about age 24 when the formation of the pre-frontal cortex is complete, we approach the development of our young staff as part of our mission, too. Just as we ask them to support our youth participants, we believe our staff also deserve to be guided and supported as their paths are also still being paved.

But our commitment to our staff is rooted in something bigger than that. We feel a responsibility to help launch these young employees into careers of their choice as a commitment to a principle that has defined our work for a century – that every young person should be an active participant in defining their own path.

Woodcraft Rangers staff are 95% BIPOC, majority female, and from the same low-income communities where our students reside. We know that historically, many Angelenos like them haven’t always been able to define their own paths – because those paths have often been obstructed by enduring systemic racism and gender bias – resulting in a lack of representation in many sectors and generations of untapped talent. This has been a huge loss for businesses. But access to better careers and leadership positions for women, BIPOC and residents of low-income communities isn’t just about representation – it’s critical to rectifying long-standing economic inequities.
Companies are seeking diverse talent but often complain that pipelines for women and BIPOC aren’t full. Cue Lifecraft. Great employees are out there. Companies just need to know where to look, and to provide the right supports to ready those candidates.  

Take for example, Zoe, a community college student that took on the challenge of coaching an elementary school robotics team even though she did not have a STEM background and had to learn a brand new curriculum. After this experience (and some tournament wins with her kids), she changed her major to computer science with a goal of being an environmental engineer. How many Zoes are out there that never got the chance to experiment in an unknown field or develop an identity in that field because the success stories may not look like them? And how many businesses lost out on their talent?

In Lifecraft, we work individually with young staff to provide them with support to expedite their degrees cost-effectively both through college counseling and as a proactive employer so that our employees don’t have to choose between work and school, a common barrier to degree completion for higher education students in low-income communities, thus perpetuating systemic inequality. And we do this so you can hire them sooner!

Lifecraft also depends on pathways programs with corporate partners in select industries to give our employees the social capital – networks, mentors, introductions – critical to career launch but often available only to those who share a zip code or alma mater with successful people in their careers of choice.

All of this work is so you call me to tell me you’ve hired one of my best employees.

When that happens, I will know we all have won.  
 
Julee Brooks is the CEO of Woodcraft Rangers and a finalist for CEO of the Year in the LABJ Women’s Leadership Awards. To support Lifecraft as a partner or as a sponsor, contact her directly at jbrooks@woodcraftrangers.org. Learn more about Woodcraft Rangers at 
woodcraftrangers.org.

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