A Double Bottom Line Investment for Companies: Giving Young People Their First Jobs

By Art Peck, Gap Inc. CEO & John B. King, U.S. Secretary of Education

We all remember our first jobs.

Art gained his first work experience in high school, painting houses and as a grocery store clerk.

One of John’s first jobs was in a summer camp in a high-needs community in Boston. It is part of the reason that he became a school teacher.

Particularly when you’re just starting off in the workforce, the prospect of finding a job with a blank resume and limited network and connections can be daunting. This process is tough for college students and even harder if you’re one of the one in seven young Americans who are out of school and work.

Here’s the thing: one of the main things employers are screening for in the hiring process is work experience. It allows them to call references who can vouch for a candidate, assess what someone can do based on demonstrations of what he or she has produced in the past, and many of the skills they are looking for can only be gained on the job. In a recent survey, 66 percent indicated that work experience is a crucial factor in hiring decisions and employers across nearly all sectors ranked it as one of the most important factors for recruitment.

And the past experience required to get a job has only increased in recent years as we have seen a macro trend of companies disinvesting in training.

The trouble is, if employers are looking for experience when making hiring decisions, how does someone with little or no experience convince a company to give them their first shot to prove what they are capable of?

The proposals that the Administration recently announced help answer that question with new investments to connect young people to first jobs that can help them start on a successful career path—including nearly doubling last year’s budget request for supporting young people who are out of school and work.

The President’s plan includes $1.5 billion to support summer jobs linked to education and training opportunities. A recent JP Morgan study found that last summer nearly 46 percent of youth who applied for summer jobs were turned down. Another $2 billion would go to investing in first jobs for nearly 150,000 young people who are not in school or working. These opportunities would not only give young workers valuable insights in the job market, but also the motivation to seek additional training and education that enhances their career prospects.

It would also create a new $2 billion competitive grant program for partnerships between cities, local education agencies, workforce boards, and community organizations to put young people who have dropped out or are most at risk of dropping out of high school on the path to get a diploma, a job, and a path to post-secondary education.

And instead of waiting for Congress to act, we’re using existing resources at the Department of Labor to connect young people to jobs this year with the release of the application for a $20 million Summer Jobs and Beyond competition for approximately 10 communities to create programs to get young people into jobs over the summer and year-round.

Gap Inc. recognizes the transformative power of work, and the value created by connecting young people to their first job. Since the company’s inception in 1969, Gap Inc. has hired hundreds of thousands of young people in their first job, and the company understands what it takes for teens and young adults to succeed at work. Leveraging that expertise, in 2007 the company launched a job training and internship program, called This Way Ahead, to provide low-income youth with the skills they need to get—and keep—that first job. Over the course of the program, participants gain important work experience and training in Gap Inc. stores, while earning a paycheck. More than 75 percent of This Way Ahead graduates are hired for on-going jobs with the company. Perhaps most notably, This Way Ahead generates strong business value for Gap Inc., by creating a pipeline of diverse and engaged talent, while the youth gain valuable skills, work experience, and big boost in confidence. The program graduates hired by the company enjoy double the retention rate and higher engagement scores than their peers. Based on this success, the company is confirming plans to expand This Way Ahead in 2016 to drive additional business growth and attract new talent.

Giving more young people their first step on the career ladder would have major positive returns for the economy as a whole. A 2012 study estimated that the lifetime cost to taxpayers of 6.7 million youth who were neither in school nor in work was around $1.6 trillion, which reflects lost tax revenues, higher expenditures on crime and health care, and increased social services, among other factors.

And for companies that are looking to the future, wanting to invest, grow their businesses and compete for new markets and innovation, one of the most important assets they have is their talent. That means that giving young people their first job is not just good for the youth, but a smart business decision.

Art Peck is Gap Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer. He joined Gap Inc. in 2005 and has held senior leadership positions across nearly every area of the company. Prior to joining Gap Inc., Art spent 20 years with The Boston Consulting Group, an international strategy and management consulting firm, where he ultimately served as a senior partner. He is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles, and holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

John B. King, Jr. is the Secretary of Education, a position he assumed in March 2016 following three months as the Acting Secretary of Education. From January 2015-January 2016 Dr. King had served at the Department as Principal Senior Advisor. Prior to his arrival at the Department, Dr. King had served since 2011 as the commissioner of education for the state of New York. Dr. King earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Harvard University, a Master of Arts in the teaching of social studies from Columbia University’s Teachers College, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and a Doctor of Education degree in educational administrative practice from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Business Case, Workforce Development,
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