September 13, 2021

Reimagining the Blueprint: The Voices That Shaped ConnextMSP

Our ambition for ConnextMSP is to ensure that young professionals of color in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region (MSP) are recruited, hired, and supported by local employers as they launch their careers. To help us identify strategies and shape solutions, we first wanted to understand the challenges and barriers young adults of color encounter as they embark on their professional journeys.

We convened three listening sessions with thirty different students and job seekers, and held additional conversations with young adults in our network to learn about their experiences along three distinct stages in a career journey:

  • Before the Search: while in college and pursuing internships and other professional development opportunities
  • During the Search: while actively researching opportunities and submitting job applications  
  • After the Search: during the first two years in an entry-level job

We received detailed feedback from students and young professionals. The ConnextMSP Fellows and 30 other coalition members interpreted these results, and used them to shape strategies and solutions. All the barriers and concerns identified by the students we interviewed are important. The ConnextMSP coalition zeroed in on three critical junctures in a young adult career journey, and on the ways we can unlock opportunities at those specific points.

Barriers and Solutions to Career Success

Before the job search, students lamented getting conflicting information about how to market themselves, and were concerned their work experiences to date wouldn’t be of value. They were concerned their comparative lack of professional networks and relationships would put them at a disadvantage.

“Sometimes I felt discouraged during my internship search. I am not sure where to start with a connection.”

They also worried that they were losing touch with the contacts they did make during internships while they were pursuing their education.

Preparing for your first job and internship search is an anxious process, especially if you feel you are lacking the right connections and guidance. ConnextMSP’s first strategy is building resume experiences for young professionals of color. Securing a career-track job often starts with landing the right internship, apprenticeship, and project-based work. We want to make it easier for young adults in the ConnextMSP network to connect with the right opportunities early.

During the job search, students noted confusion about job postings and difficulty understanding which qualifications are required versus those that are optional. Respondents indicate they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of job search platforms and application timelines. They noted a lack of diversity in their fields and the resulting lack of cultural understanding from employers, which made it difficult to navigate the interview process. They were concerned that they lacked the necessary networks, and worried they might not be able to accept relevant opportunities because they did not pay a livable wage.

“Knowing upfront what the qualifications are is really helpful. Sometimes I get halfway through the process or sometimes even the end to learn I wasn’t hired because my GPA didn’t meet the requirements.”

The second strategy of ConnextMSP is creating new career pathways. This means working closely with employers - recruiters and hiring managers - to update job post requirements to more closely reflect the skills needed to open doors to more applicants. 

After the job search, students noted a lack of mentorship and supportive advocates to help them settle into this first job and navigate career advancement and professional development. They were worried that onboarding - especially in the new virtual space - did not position them for success. They also felt unprepared to navigate the work culture and some were concerned about not being paid a living wage.

“I was in a program and one of the things that I was told was that professionalism is the only way to get a job, and you had to act a certain way to get a job, and it was really awful to hear. I felt really uncomfortable that a program that was led by someone who was white was telling a bunch of BIPOC, ‘You can only act this way, or you won’t get a job’.”

The third strategy of ConnextMSP is strengthening professional networks. Most jobs, as well as career advancement opportunities, are obtained through trusted relationships, which can be built in intentional and measurable ways. We are powering this work through the ConnextMSP Talent Network, an online portal through which employers and young professionals of color in the region can directly connect, share job opportunities, offer mentorship and career guidance. This means that jobs obtained through the ConnextMSP network will be with employers committed to recruiting and hiring an inclusive workforce, as well as supporting these young professionals as their careers get underway.

We Are Doing it Together

The challenges are far too big for any single organization to solve alone. ConnextMSP brings together college and career readiness programs, higher education partners and employers to work collaboratively on solutions that can drive change inside organizations. This network is also informed and guided by the perspectives of young professionals of color from our region who are launching their careers.

It’s a win-win. Together, we are creating avenues to match talent with available professional-track jobs, we are establishing clear pathways to career success, and we are ensuring talented young professionals of color can reach their full potential in our region.