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Growing The Workforce Of The Future With A Year-Round Focus On Youth Employment

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at September 23, 2021

Youth employment tends to be a focal point during the summer months, as many teenagers land their first work experience and new college graduates embark on internships or their first career-focused job opportunity. But as another summer winds to a close and talk shifts to students returning to school in the fall, we need to elevate the importance of a year-round approach to youth employment and how employers can drive equity through their hiring and promotional practices.

Today, many young people have the odds stacked against them. While the job market continues to improve, there is an ever-widening opportunity gap for young people from communities of color who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Although the overall youth unemployment rate was 10.9 percent in June, it’s notably higher at 13.6 percent for Black youth in the U.S. (compared to 9.9 percent for white youth), according to research from the Schultz Family Foundation.

Studies show that students who enter the workforce early are more likely to obtain quality, higher paying jobs later in life, often causing a positive ripple effect on wealth creation through improved financial literacy and a strong drive to save and invest. The demand for early exposure to jobs and training is only increasing – since by 2025, the majority of U.S. jobs will require some post-secondary education or specialized training. And on top of this, employers are looking for workers who represent the changing demographics of the country to better reflect their clients and customers. 

The benefits of early entry to the workforce are symbiotic; young people gain a valuable experience, and businesses help develop the next generation of talent on which their own growth relies.

Tackling youth unemployment won’t be possible if we don’t intentionally address the combined impacts of a global pandemic and the persistent systemic barriers faced by people of color – from experiencing the stress of poverty and its accompanying lack of access, to all-too-common hiring biases . We can’t simply hope that today’s young people will catch the same breaks that many of us benefitted from years ago; and for millions of Americans, those breaks never existed in the first place.

As cities and states attempt to dig out from budget crises caused by the pandemic, businesses can step up and help fill the gap. With local funds supporting the majority of youth employment programs, America’s leading corporations are uniquely positioned to address this need both within their organizations and externally by using their influence and resources to drive change.

At Bank of America, we’ve operated with this mindset for a long time, having provided 17,000 summer jobs for young people since 2010, in addition to connecting thousands more to skills-building opportunities through community partnerships and our Student Leaders® program. By partnering with a range of organizations, including Urban Alliance and NPower, Year Up, and most recently Major League Baseball and the National Football League, we’re providing in-demand professional opportunities that extend far beyond our own industry. These investments in unique, year-round skills-building and leadership development help to better prepare youth for the workforce.

When young people have opportunities to build workforce skills, create a network and understand the power of mentoring, our communities grow and thrive. As young people navigate the road ahead, these life skills will play a more vital role than ever before, both for academic and career success.

Other companies are coming up with creative solutions, too. For example, Google offers a series of professional certificates that qualify young adults for in-demand, high-potential jobs in just a few months, as opposed to the years it takes to earn a traditional college degree.

As corporate America steps up to create a pipeline of diverse talent, they are not alone. Nonprofit consulting organizations such as Grads of Life can provide companies with the strategy, research, and networks they need to help scale inclusive hiring tactics that create a triple bottom line — for the individual, the community and company itself.

Addressing the challenge of youth unemployment – and capturing the benefits of doing so – requires this kind of innovation, building on best practices and, importantly, cross-sector partnership.

While for many students, the paycheck is essential, the longer-term benefits, like being able to envision a career path and a plan for one’s future, can’t be overlooked. Providing employment opportunities is a straight-forward way that corporate America can positively impact the lives of young people and the professional pools that companies will continue to rely on. Every company can do their part, and everyone will benefit if they do.

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