The math just doesn't add up. According to ManpowerGroup, 40 percent of employers report that they struggle to fill positions, and the Opportunity Index, an annual measure of economic, education and civic data, states that 5.6 million young adults are out of school and lack jobs. By providing these young adults with the right training, we can bridge both the skills gap and the opportunity divide.
That's what we seek through our new Grads of Life initiative, a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign, created in partnership with the Ad Council: We want to create a bridge between “opportunity youth" (people ages 16 to 24 who aren't in school and don't have jobs) and employment.
Grads of Life is sponsored by Year Up, which provides opportunity youth with training and support to prepare them for jobs, the Employment Pathways Project, an organization that works with businesses and organizations to help them realize the benefits of working with opportunity youth, as well as a number of other nonprofit partners. The initiative shares resources and tools to business owners interested in working with opportunity youth. Having spent years working with these young people, I've found this segment to be incredibly dedicated, loyal and grateful for the chance to prove themselves, and that's a big benefit for business owners. Many companies are already working with opportunity youth and seeing benefits like increased retention, greater employee engagement and a minimized hiring risk, since the employers can mentor or train the young people before they are officially hired. Here are some tips I share with businesses interested in giving them a chance.
1. Ask for help.
There's a lot of work being done in this area right now, so the best place to start is with an organization that is already educating and training opportunity youth and can pair someone with you. That could be a nonprofit, a workforce board, a high school or a community college. In addition to bridging the gap between employer and employee, this partner can help educate you on what you need to know about working with opportunity youth, too.
2. Get involved at a level that's right for you.
Maybe you're not quite ready to hire a young person, but you want to do something. There are a number of ways to get involved with opportunity youth. You or your employees can mentor a young person, or you can provide an internship, both of which allow for a brief trial period. These are great ways to acquaint yourselves with younger people looking for opportunities.
3. Set parameters.
Whether you're acting as a mentor or a boss, it's important that you start off by clearly communicating your expectations to the young person with whom you'll be working. What are your goals and expected outcomes? What are your eligibility requirements? How much of a time commitment are you looking for? Make sure everyone is on the same page before you get started. Good communication will increase the odds of success.
4. Use the tools available.
At GradsofLife.org, we've created guides for internships, mentoring, training and hiring to help employers understand the benefits and steps to working with opportunity youth. The tips and tools can help companies of all levels learn how to create opportunities within your own organization to work with these young people, whether you have a history with opportunity youth or you're just getting started.