In the wake of the Great Recession, the longstanding challenges faced by young American job-seekers reached a peak, with unemployment rates for 16-24 year olds hitting over 19 percent. Yet a key to unlocking this age-old problem may have emerged from the crisis, and from the slow recovery that followed.
Thought-leaders and decision-makers alike have increasingly arrived at a potentially catalytic realization: that full employment for our nation’s youth can only occur at the intersection of our labor market pathways and our entry-level job creation pathways—requiring investment and intervention not only in the education and skill development community but also among employers and private sector actors.
In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted private sector engagement as the key to tackling unemployment in the United States. More recently, Congress reauthorized the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act, which introduced a new emphasis on job placement and employer engagement in youth programming. In the field of philanthropy, too, we’ve seen the rise of a fresh commitment to advancing demand-driven approaches to increasing youth employment.
“Many employers have a business rationale and commitment to hiring youth, but face difficulties implementing new policies and practices to capture the value youth offer.”
Employers are also stepping up. Starbucks, for example, recently launched LeadersUp to explore opportunities for leveraging their supply chain to increase youth employment opportunities at scale. In doing so, it joined a growing community of corporations and small or medium sized enterprises who seek to leverage young talent for the benefit of their businesses.
But change is hard. Many employers have a business rationale and commitment to hiring youth but face difficulties implementing new policies and practices to capture the value youth offer.
As the field shifts towards a more holistic approach that recognizes both supply and demand, we’ll need to cultivate the infrastructure, capacity, and tools we require to sustain momentum and realize impact. One pioneering effort led by a Rockefeller Foundation grantee, the Employment Pathways Project(EPP), was unveiled this week. In partnership with the Ad Council, Year Up, ConPRmetidos, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, New Options Project, and Opportunity Nation, EPP launched the “Grads of Life” campaign.
Grads of Life includes the first online platform to provide employers with the information, tools and resources they need to take action on youth employment. It will also release a series of public service announcements designed to help companies identify the unique value disadvantaged youth can bring to their business.
Announced at the 10th Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative amidst a cohort of private sector representatives participating in a Youth Employment Action Network, the Grads of Life campaign is a tremendous accomplishment—one that shows just how far we’ve come to engage employers on this issue.