“You can employ men and hire hands to work for you, but you will have to win their hearts to have them work with you.” — William J.H. Boetcker
One of the biggest problems that face HBCU students is getting a job after graduation. This is for a myriad of reasons. One of which is lack of experience. Many students will spend their summer taking summer classes or working part-time jobs unrelated to their field as opposed to doing internships. This is a time when they could be gaining real world work experience to put on their resume. Now in many cases students must work jobs that pay because of a host of financial issues that continuously plague African America. However, that doesn’t change the need for experience in your field and the ways one could go about obtaining it.
HBCUs aren’t typically target schools for European American owned corporations and their recruiters as a whole nor should we expect to be. Some of why that is I tackled in African-American Unemployment: An Easy Answer With Hard Means a few years ago. There are a few exceptions but exceptions (and even those have a quota) and not the rule is leaving most of our students not honing their skills during the summer (or during the semester) in an economic environment where experience is becoming even more crucial to have on one’s resume upon graduation.
To resolve this students and HBCUs can tackle this in a number of different ways. First HBCUs need to make an internship in one’s field a requirement for graduation. Then start to compile a list of start-up companies near the school and by near I mean a 45 mile radius. This would allow for a number of different things to transpire. First it would allow the school to generate new relationships with the private sectors near them which could lead to economic and political influence, future sponsorships, and future long-term employment for their students. It provides free labor for these companies who in many cases are bootstrapping but need workers. It would also generate summer revenue for HBCUs whereby students would need summer housing and transportation assuming the student did not have their own could be an additional service provided by the HBCU. For the student it provides invaluable experience and the beginning of building their network. It could lead to permanent employment immediately upon graduation assuming the company is in position to do so or it could give the student a leg up when they start applying to larger and more established firms. There is also the flexibility that start-ups have for their interns. In many instances the internships can exist remotely, during school semesters, and part-time if no more than just on the weekends. Its all still experience for the student and relationships building with a company and the network of people that the founder(s) of that company know. The beauty of start-up firms is because they have so many holes to fill the students will get experience in many different areas and a chance to contribute in a significant way to the growth of the company even as just an intern something that is not likely to happen at working at more established firms where the chance to work in the office next to the President or CEO is highly unlikely.
There are 1.9 million African American owned companies of which a staggering 1.8 million have only one employee. This is a problem but presents a great opportunity for HBCUs. A minute number of African Americans work for African American owned companies. That means the majority of our labor capital is building up the wealth of someone else’s businesses. It also means our businesses are in need of labor that can help them grow with ideas and energy. With our unemployment always twice what the national rate in good AND bad economies this is in large from our dependency in relying on other communities to supply our employment instead of providing it ourselves. There is also the issue of how long our students are going before they become employed after graduation which has long-term implications on our ability to generate accumulate capital and generate wealth.
I know my company for one is always looking for good HBCU students to serve as interns. The more interconnected a spider web is the stronger it is. We need to build a more interconnected web of African American companies and HBCUs and then reach out to our African Diaspora brethren. Let’s build a stronger web together.
Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & President of AK Companies, Inc. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.