Editor’s Note: This is the third of four in our StoryCorps “Spoken From the Heart” series. Check back next week for the last installment, which brings us to West Philadelphia.
While overall employment is on the rise in America, many young adults who are trying to transition into the labor force are being left behind. At the end of 2013, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year-olds was over 13 percent, double the unemployment rate of the labor market as a whole. More than 5.5 million young people were both out of work and not in school, and millions more were unable to find full-time positions or opportunities that matched their skills, job training, or education.
Given that 66 percent of wage growth occurs in the first ten years of a person’s career, early unemployment threatens to place this generation of youth at a long-term disadvantage. Not only that, businesses themselves are missing out on the talent, passion, and skills of a largely untapped talent pool.
“66 percent of wage growth occurs in the first ten years of a person’s career.”
But this isn’t an irreversible trend. The Rockefeller Foundation’s Youth Unemployment Initiative is centered on the role employers can play in creating more meaningful career opportunities for young Americans, and in doing so, boost their bottom lines – creating a more inclusive economic system along the way.
Southwire, North America’s largest manufacturer of building wire and cable, is one of those pioneering employers. In 2007, the company joined forces with the local school system in Carrollton, Georgia, to establish a program designed to address the high number of students failing to graduate from high school. The “12 for Life” program developed by Southwire gives students who are in danger of dropping out an opportunity to earn both a paycheck and a diploma, showing them that they don’t need to compromise their futures in order to sustain themselves in the present.
A true partnership between public and private, the program integrates employment and skills training at the Southwire plant with class time, making it possible for students to earn money, and finish high school at the same time. In addition to giving struggling students the motivation to complete school, “12 for Life” also provides a successful model for other businesses by proving the value of young workers. Since 2007, nearly 1,000 students have graduated from the program and many of them have gone on to jobs at the plant.
StoryCorps captured young mother Ashley Jordan and her supervisor Debbie Jordan talking about how the “12 for Life” program helped Ashley get started on her career path. But first, Southwire President and CEO Stu Thorn talks about the program’s importance to the firm. Take a listen!
*This StoryCorps story was produced by Eve Claxton and Xandra Clark. Photography by Sarah Shatz and music, “Flitter Key Backwards Beat” and “Chipper Dan” by Podington Bear.