Today, AmeriCorps celebrates 20 years of “getting things done.” AmeriCorps has a huge impact in the United States. The program gives people the opportunity to work for a year with a nonprofit, school, public agency, or other organization that addresses societal needs.
Since 1994, more than 900,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed over 1.2 billion hours to some of our nation’s most pressing problems – poverty, illiteracy, food insecurity, homelessness, and lack of healthcare, to name a few.
AmeriCorps and other such “national service” organizations are a win-win for our society. They support communities, help people improve their lives, and provide additional “human capital” to organizations that serve disadvantaged people.
But they also help build a strong future workforce that is socially conscious, motivated, innovative, tenacious, and talented. While serving their communities, corps members develop and deploy skills in communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership — skills that employers increasingly say are vital in the workplace.
An April 2014 CareerBuilder survey showed that 77% of employers believe soft skills, such as being well organized or an effective communicator, are just as important as job-specific skills. And according to another study by Millennial Branding and Beyond.com, the top three attributes companies look for are 1) a positive attitude (84%), 2) communication skills (83%) and 3) an ability to work as a team (74%).
National service: An antidote to unemployment
According to a report by Voices for National Service, the skills people acquire during their national service make them more likely to be employed and to earn higher salaries over the course of their lifetimes.
Sixty-seven percent of AmeriCorps state and national members and 70% of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps members reported that their service experiences provided them with an advantage in finding a job. While serving, young people acquire expertise that is particularly relevant to the rapidly growing nonprofit sector – the third largest industry in America’s economy, employing 10.5 million workers, or one tenth of our workforce.
Young people are still reeling from the economic downturn. And the unemployment rate in August 2014 for Americans age 20 to 24 was 10.7%, twice the rate for 25 to 54 year olds, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
National service: Long-terms benefits for society
In addition to preparing people for lifelong careers, national service also increases the likelihood that corps members will continue working in fields that benefit society. For example, according to the Voices for National Service report, two-thirds of Community HealthCorps alumni, many of whom had no prior experience in healthcare, went on to pursue careers as doctors, health educators, social workers, medical assistants, and registered nurses after spending a year promoting healthcare in underserved communities.
Similarly, about two-thirds of Teach for America corps members, who teach in low-performing schools for two years, remain in the education sector as teachers, administrators, advocates, and innovators after their service is over.
National service also encourages people from low-income backgrounds to pursue public service careers where they can make a difference to others. Forty-four percent of minority and 46% of disadvantaged alumni of Corporation for National and Community Service programs are employed in public service, versus only 26% of comparison groups.
Cisco has long recognized the importance of national service, both to the corps members and to the community. We partner with educational service organizations like City Year and Teach For America to grow their corps with cash grants, product donations, and professional expertise. Our employees are proud that Cisco has been named an AmeriCorps Alums National Service Corporate Champion in recognition of our ongoing commitment to the concept of national service.
More young people today want to engage in national service, and we must create opportunities for them to do so. In 2011, AmeriCorps received 580,000 applications for only 80,000 positions, only half of which are full time.
In light of the significant impact that AmeriCorps has had in communities, and the continuing demand from young people to serve, Cisco is engaging with the Franklin Project to develop new ways to connect and collaborate in national service. Learn more at youserve.org.