Raising the Teal Generation

Today’s digital, diverse, and dispersed economy requires a workforce with many different personal qualities: curiosity, empathy, imagination, purpose, motivation, resilience, peacemaking. And as work becomes more teal–that is, focused on purpose, self-management, and the whole person–these qualities become even more necessary. 

But someone’s first day on the job is a late start for developing these qualities. 

The British have a saying: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton.” In other words, today’s leadership and success began years before, in schools. (Ignore for a moment Eton’s highly privileged status as an exclusive boarding school founded by Henry VI in 1440.)

If we want a teal workforce in the future, we need to start raising a teal generation in schools and families and communities. 

The bad news is, we’re currently going in the wrong direction. 

At the end of 2021, all sorts of alarm bells went off about youth mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a youth mental health alert. The Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics also, independent of and prior to the Surgeon General, issued similar alarms about youth mental health.

This crisis was building long before the pandemic, too. Do the math and that means we’re now starting to graduate cohorts whose education, their workforce preparation, has been stunted for years. 

Just as we offer school breakfasts and lunches so hungry kids can focus on learning, so too must we support kids who are angry, anxious, depressed, lonely, fearful, or self-doubting so they can learn with a clear head and a full heart.

Fortunately, there’s a way to get back on track for raising a teal-ready generation. There’s already a well-established and proven approach to teaching these skills. Educators call it Social Emotional Learning or SEL. Educators know the term SEL, but most parents and businesses don’t. 

The Surgeon General’s report specifically called for expanding SEL programs as part of a “whole of society” response to the crisis. Currently, about 25 percent of schools offer some sort of systematic or comprehensive approach to SEL. 

Our society’s all-hands-on-deck response must include businesses, as well. Business is a major way that we solve problems. There is great opportunity in solving great problems, as well. But more than that, it’s in business’s self interest to help kids go from mental health crisis to curious, empathetic, imaginative, motivated, and purposeful. It’s how they’ll get the teal-ready workforce of the future that they need. 

Business answered a similar call to action around 2010. At the time, technology was rapidly accelerating. Everyone realized that we didn’t have a workforce that was fully literate in science, technology, engineering, and math. Educators call these the STEM subjects. 

In the dozen years since, business has invested more than $1 billion in supporting STEM programs in schools and communities. STEM is now a household word. Local news shows have regular segments promoting STEM education. Businesses have a broader STEM labor pool, including more women and people of color.

We need exactly this sort of business response from schools and businesses for raising the teal generation.