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Youth Hold the Key: Building Your Workforce Today and in the Future

Across employers and industries, we have heard stories about the value young people bring to the workplace. Employers in manufacturing cited the need for serious hand-eye coordination and reported positive experiences with young people filling these roles. Others cited the benefit of having youth in their companies who can use evolving technologies. For others, especially firms that need a lot of entry-level employees, young workers are their lifeblood.

Youth Hold the Key: Building Your Workforce Today and in the Future focuses on the role that youth can play in helping employers meet some of their current and looming workforce challenges, and how companies can improve how they hire and retain youth. The findings are based on a recent survey of 350 employers, more than 80 interviews with employers and workforce experts conducted during 2014 by The Bridgespan Group and Bain & Company, as well as a review of published literature. Much of this work focused on the potential of the millions of young people—referred to here as “opportunity youth”—who are disconnected from both work and school, and lack a college degree, to address the needs of employers.

This paper highlights:

  • The current and potential demand for workers under age 25 and the business rationales for hiring youth;
  • Challenges experienced by employers in hiring and retaining young workers;
  • Current employer efforts to address youth employment challenges and increase the pipeline of youth who can effectively fill job openings;
  • The gaps between employer demand for talent and the supply of young workers; and
  • The potential for addressing youth employment challenges through changing practices and establishing broad-based partnerships among employers and others focused on systems change.

Any discussion of youth employment must acknowledge that there are currently too few jobs for young people, and even where actual or potential demand exists, there are real obstacles to matching young people to jobs. Despite an array of efforts by individual employers to hire young people, these efforts are not reaching the scale needed to significantly reduce youth unemployment nor meet the workforce needs of employers today.

But, we also recognize that youth are valuable sources of talent as employers look to fill millions of jobs today and in years to come. And employers have compelling business reasons to overcome barriers to hiring youth on their own or through working with partners. Meeting employer needs for talented entry level workers and young people’s needs for brighter futures will require innovative new approaches, tools, and partnerships—whether through collaborating with educational institutions, establishing workforce efforts built for scale, or piloting and investing in innovations focused on scalable solutions.