The conversations that change lives

Some 22,000 students will graduate from Idaho high schools in the next eight weeks, as did a similar number a year ago. Some have plans. Many don’t. The unusual, semi-virtual school year, rising college costs, lingering effects of the pandemic, and other factors create confusion and uncertainty for recent grads and young adults trying to get their bearings.

One of the greatest things about my job is getting out of the office and visiting schools and communities all over Idaho to talk with young adults about their futures. These incidental conversations can spark aspirations and lay the groundwork for promising training and career plans.

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, where young people are working behind the counter. I usually can’t help myself—I ask them, “What’s next for you?” The answers tend to run the gamut, from “I have no idea,” to a more carefully considered plan. I endeavor to listen more than advise, and ask questions that start with, “What if…?”

I remember the car-wash employee who recognized me from a Zoom meeting with his high school counselor. When I asked if he’d used the Apply Idaho tool on Next Steps Idaho (where one can apply to all Idaho colleges simultaneously and for free), he said he hadn’t gotten around to it. I told him to meet me on the other side of the wash tunnel, where I opened a laptop on my car hood and he filled out his college application within 10 minutes.

Of course, there are many worthy pathways Idahoans can explore. I met a student in Ag Shop class who wanted to be a welder. We got his scholarship application submitted and connected him to the College of Technology at Idaho State University, which offers one- and two-year welding certification programs that can be partially paid for with Idaho Opportunity Scholarship money or through Idaho Launch.

Idaho’s young people want to gain skills, earn a decent living, and contribute to their communities. But a well-lit path to such destinations isn’t always obvious. Our young people desperately need relationships with trusted adults who can talk about options in ways that say, “You got this,” rather than “You need to do this.”

What does it take to be a trusted, well-informed mentor to a student trying to figure things out? Basic knowledge of the newly expanded Next Steps Idaho website—a treasure trove of useful resources, tools, self-assessments, and curated information, created by and for Idahoans. Whether it’s information about short-term certification programs, career-technical fields, going to college, securing an apprenticeship, or trying to pair your interests and skills with specific careers, Next Steps Idaho makes everything clearer and easier, and just a few clicks away. It’s why I carry my laptop, with the site always open, ready to share with anyone willing to engage.

While my work focuses on young people, I also use Next Steps Idaho as a jumping-off point for adults seeking career guidance and information—people like veterans transitioning to civilian life, people exiting the corrections system, displaced workers, and career changers. There’s something for everyone—diverse options, pathways, and explorations for a broad range of Idahoans.

I’m honored to be a “connector” in this work—part of a network of school counselors, college and career ambassadors, and educators whose passion and often life’s work is to help people discover their passion and enter a profession that offers a good wage and personal fulfillment. My advice for others is simple: opportunities for the types of conversations I’ve mentioned are everywhere and can be life-changing for someone trying to figure out their next steps.

 

Byron Yankey

About Byron Yankey

Byron Yankey was an Idaho elementary educator and administrator for nearly 40 years. He currently works as the College and Career Advising Program Manager for the Idaho State Board of Education.

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