Graduation keynote for YMCA Training Inc

I was asked to deliver a keynote address at the graduation of YMCA Training Inc’s 132nd cycle. The YMCA Training, Inc. program is an intensive 20-week, full-time computerized office skills training and employment program. Designed to replicate the expectations of a professional office environment, the training prepares participants with both the technical and job readiness skills to succeed. Here is what I said to the graduates.

Thank you friends, families and supporters, staff members, employer partners and board members. Congratulations, Graduates, it took you 20 weeks to get to this day. And it took me 20 years. You see, I also started my second career at Training Inc. In 1999, I was working in my first career in finance when I started to volunteer at Training Inc. I was an English tutor to a woman named Yelena who had been a physician in her home country and started her second career working at a bank after she graduated from TI.

I have worked at TI as a volunteer, then as an instructor, then as a board member. Because of Training Inc. I became interested in workforce development training – that’s job training for adults like you have just completed. Because of those interests I got a masters in education and a PhD in policy, specializing in workforce development policy. And today, I have my own consulting practice and get to help a lot of workforce development programs. My career path has been indirect, like yours.

You may think that you’re behind, starting a new career today. But as an expert in the field, and someone who has started her career over myself, I’m here to tell you that you are ahead.

You see, many Americans have not realized what we know – that we’ll all retrain more than once in our careers. That being able to start fresh is the most important skill workers can have today. Let me show you something.

Here is the number of new inventions that received patents in America every year since 1790. From 40 or 50 per year in the early 1800s to 350,000 in the year 2020.

Here are just a few that have affected office work. For over 100 years, using a typewriter didn’t change much. But since the 1960s, word processors, personal computers, Microsoft word, laptops, email, google, Bluetooth, iphones, and zoom have all been invented and have all changed how we do our job every day. 

This acceleration of change in technology changed the nature of work. Up until the 1960s people could train for one job and expect to have that career for the rest of their working lives.

In the 1960s, the rate of inventions increased so that cycles of technology started to be shorter than human lives. It was in the 1960s that, as a country, we started to take seriously the need to retrain adults for their second careers.

Nowadays, we should all expect to have 2, 3, or 4 careers. While some people still think that that is scary or unfair, you have already done it at least once. You know how to do it and you are not afraid. You know how to learn new technology. You know how to bring your experience to new subjects. You have the skills to adapt. You are the workers that employers need now.

Especially now.

In March of 2020, my friend Cynthia approached me and our friend Rebecca with a fairly outlandish idea – that we should start an online talk show and talk to leaders of nonprofits about leading through Covid. We did not know how to make an online show. We did not know how to stream to Facebook or LinkedIn. We did not know how to lead through Covid – nobody did. But Cynthia said something very important. “Everyone is so forgiving right now.” At that strange time, we were all learning to work at home, we were using zoom for everything. We were holding meetings in our kitchens. Participants held their babies, cats walked through the zoom frame, spouses and partners walked through the zoom frame, dogs barked.

Nobody knew what they were doing. So we went for it. And eventually we learned a lot about producing and hosting a live video podcast. And a lot about our subject. And formed the most productive working relationship of our careers – even though it’s exactly twice that the three of us have been in the same room.

The world has changed since 2020. And there is a changing attitude towards work in a way that I think is very positive. We now know that we have to drive our own careers and build work lives that are consistent with our values and life goals. Where we work and how we work are still in flux. It is all very uncertain and uncomfortable and nobody is going to do it for us. We all have to learn new things and count on other peoples’ forgiveness. We’re inventing our future.

And that’s where you will thrive. You’ve been doing something very uncomfortable. You have already embraced change and made decisions about the life and career that you want.

You have done it before. You know that you will do it again. You have the confidence to start over and the creativity to reinvent yourselves. At Training Inc you’ve learned some important job skills. More importantly, you’ve learned the skill of learning new, hard, complicated things. You’ve learned to make mistakes and to fail forward. You have learned that you can start over and not be afraid.

May you have auspiciousness and causes of success
May you have the confidence to always do your best
May you take no effort in your being generous
Sharing what you can, nothing more nothing less
May you know the meaning of the word happiness
May you always lead from the beating in your chest
May you be treated like an esteemed guest
May you get to rest, may you catch your breath

And may the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows (Jason Mraz)

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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