By Dr. Michael L. Lomax
Upon meeting Garrett Lord, the founder and CEO of Handshake, I realized our two organizations were both deeply committed to facilitating the same thing: equitable education and career opportunities. Our vision for the future was reliant on building a better way for all students to access the sorts of learning and job opportunities that lead to economic security and mobility.
There has never been a more urgent time to help ensure students are successfully entering the workforce and participating in our economic recovery. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, workers under the age of 35 account for almost half of the job losses. At the same time, graduation rates continue to decline as students navigate financial insecurity and growing scrutiny around a college degree’s return on investment. Every day, young people who are trying to find their space in a 21st century economy without previous work experience or social capital are slipping through the cracks.
Today, I’m joining Handshake’s Board of Directors to help solve this problem. When UNCF was founded in 1944, our mission to support minority students’ education and development could not have anticipated or considered today’s economic climate and labor market shifts. It has become clear that we need different strategies to close the gap between post-secondary education and meaningful career opportunities that move youth in poverty to the middle and upper class.
As the newest board member, I’m most excited to help accelerate Handshake’s efforts to help underrepresented, first-generation students develop social capital, which has long been an enabler for economic mobility. Like education, social capital and professional relationships give people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder a chance to land good-paying jobs. With over 1.5 million relationships forged between students and employers in 2021, Handshake is at the forefront of democratizing social capital.
In the hopes of making a real impact, I am bringing my expertise in higher education reform to bear on Handshake’s technology and its massive community of colleges, employers, and students. Bringing together my experience at a legacy organization like UNCF with the innovation and reach of Handshake has the potential to catalyze change, activate ambitious recovery plans, and most importantly, transform the lives of our nation’s youth. Together, we can funnel all students into the jobs of today, while preparing them into the careers of tomorrow, and help break the cycles of intergenerational poverty. Handshake and I are up to the task.