Spring 2018
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CTDO Magazine

Partnerships Create Career Paths

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Employers are teaming up with local youth-serving nonprofits to teach and train the next generation of workers.

In the United States, it is estimated that 4.9 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are not in school and not working, according to the 2017 Opportunity Index. This population has been identified as opportunity youth (OY) and is sometimes referred to as "disconnected youth." What's more, by some estimates, the cost in lost revenues and social services associated with OY may be as high as $93 billion.


Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations, produces the annual index. The organization notes that these disconnected youth come from all backgrounds and financial situations. Many are looking for work that they can't find, often because they lack the technical and soft skills required in today's job market. And few can come up with the money to pay for the increasingly expensive postsecondary job training or the college education they need to get ahead.

That's the bad news. The good news is that many in this population, while facing significant barriers to success, are optimistic about their futures if presented with the right environment and support.

Alliances thrive

A growing number of nonprofits and businesses are teaming up to recruit, train, and hire young workers for both summer jobs and year-round employment. "First jobs are important, and partnerships can make that experience even more remarkable and intentionally skills building," explains Opportunity Nation in a blog post.

The 100K Job Opportunities Coalition is a partnership initiative realizing gains in hiring and developing OY workers. Starbucks, Walmart, and Taco Bell are some of the business leaders partnering with nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA, San Diego Works, YearUp, and the Arizona Center for Youth Resources (ACYR). These alliances are not only matching up young people with positions but also helping them obtain a high school diploma or high school equivalency and work-readiness skills.

For example, ACYR CEO Sharlet Barnett notes that her organization served more than 900 youth in 2017, with 75 percent of them gaining employment or entering postsecondary education. "We expect those numbers to increase in 2018, especially after some of these key partnerships with the companies in the community," she says.

The partnership between Starbucks and ACYR is one effort in the 100K Job initiative. It showcases how employers can expand their community outreach while simultaneously recruiting and developing employees. For example, Starbucks is participating in ACYR's annual Youth Leadership Summit and quarterly hiring events at Starbucks stores. In addition, ACYR career advisers work with OY new hires to overcome challenges they may experience once they start employment.

Barnett explains that advisers help OY workers plan how get to work on time and ensure they have transportation or childcare lined up. "If the worse happens and life interferes, they need to know how to communicate with their employer so they do not lose their job," she notes.

The two organizations also are collaborating to provide an in-store training center at one of its Phoenix locations. The class space, which opened in 2016, is a part of Starbucks's "effort to support job training and social change in at least 15 diverse, low- to medium-income communities in the country," notes Starbucks in a written statement. Other stores with dedicated training spaces are in Queens, New York; and Ferguson, Missouri. Starbucks is working with ACYR to provide customer service and career skills training that OY employees will use not only in their current jobs, but as their careers grow—even if that's with another company.

This initiative "has brought attention to and helped address the critical issue of providing career pathways for Opportunity Youth," says Phoenix Vice Mayor Laura Pastor, in a press statement. "Promoting and delivering high-quality educational and training programs that lead directly to good-paying jobs is essential to reversing the trend of low workforce and academic participation in communities of need. While we still have a long way to go, this partnership and our work so far demonstrates the value and potential of such efforts."

Lessons to lead the way

As more employers partner with local nonprofits like ACYR, it becomes clear that the collaboration is a bi-directional relationship. Recognizing that many OY workers will require more time to build trust, skills, and job focus, especially considering their challenges and distractions, advocacy agencies will need to work with employers to educate business leaders and staff.

For example, employers likely will need to review policies and apply an appropriate level of guidelines. Indeed, strict attendance and dress code policies could be barriers for many potential OY employees. Likewise, transportation in areas without solid, reliable public transit highlights gaps in underserved communities. Not to mention, childcare issues can be exacerbated by youth parents who lack funds, access, transportation, and parenting knowledge. In other words, understanding what it takes to get to the worksite is important, and organizations may need to educate managers to acknowledge when to apply visible leniency.


"ACYR's success is attributed, in part, to the quality of innovative partnerships, programs, and people that reflect our mission for building futures and strengthening communities," says Barnett. "We are committed to developing the next generation of workers building pathways to success for our young people through education, skill building, and employment."

In the end, raising awareness about this hidden talent pool is an important step in helping companies understand the impact they have on their communities, and gain some insight about their own culture. No doubt, moving forward will require talent executives with vision, leadership, and courage. But the finish line is a win-win for the future of the OY population, business, and our local communities.

About ACYR

Since 1976, the Arizona Center for Youth Resources has been focused on building pathways to success through education, skill building, and employment for local youth. It helps to secure young people's economic futures and transition them to successful roles in society.

Guidelines for Establishing a Partnership

Here are some guidelines to help employers cement partnerships and tap into the opportunity youth (OY) talent pool.

  • Seek out and engage in partnership with local nonprofits focused on OY and workforce development.
  • Using evidence-based processes, identify and demonstrate the positive outcomes of a business case for developing the two-way partnerships, including mentoring, coaching, and workforce support.
  • Use nontraditional recruiting methods, such as relying on a nonprofit partner to assist with outreach identification, assessment, and readiness.
  • Commit to hiring and training. Be sure to train not only OY employees via such programs as internships, apprenticeships, and externships, but also internal staff on how to work with and understand what OY talent needs for success.
  • Work with partner organizations to build a process that addresses postemployment support, counseling, and engagement.
  • Understand the communities served and the challenges they face. Business and nonprofit partners may need to explore legislative changes that encourage innovative programs and strategies to address transportation, childcare, rehabilitation issues, and so forth.
  • Celebrate success.

    Are You Giving Back?

    Giving back to our communities doesn't just mean reaching into our wallets. Many nonprofits and community organizations can use the skill sets of talent development professionals. How do you define "giving back" and how do you think it affects your organization? What are you or your employees and organization doing to give back to the profession or society at large? CTDO would love to share your giving back story.

    Contact Ann Parker, senior content manager for the Association for Talent Development, with your ideas and stories.

About the Author

Robin B. Hollis serves as community outreach director for the National Tri-Caucus Board Development Association, which is engaged in securing resources and shaping education and economic development within the Hispanic, African American, Native American, and disenfranchised communities through sustainable partnerships. She also is founder and president of The Hollis Group, providing research and consulting services focused developing and engaging Millennials in the workforce. Contact her via twitter @robinbhollis.

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