Opportunity Youth: The Key to an Inclusive Economy

America’s future is in color and demands that we actualize an inclusive economy. As our workforce evolves from industrial to information-driven, and access to the information, skills, and career pathways to prosperity widen for the growing multi-cultural population, our ability to leverage our most valuable asset – a diverse talent pool, is inextricably tied to our country’s success. An inclusive economy reflects diversity across a multitude of facets. It makes equity an imperative and most importantly, it is intentional about tapping into the talent and ingenuity of communities that are historically marginalized and underutilized. This strategy requires a concerted effort by the private and public sectors to innovate talent pipelines in order to meet the future needs of business and communities.

Demographic shifts translate to emerging workforce patterns. By 2020, half the children in the U.S. will be people of color and millennials are expected to comprise 50% of the workforce. This highlights the rise of a younger and more diverse talent pool. With the expected exit of 17 million baby boomers by 2030, these changes make it clear that revitalizing the talent pool is one of the most important business investments companies can make. Businesses need to start creating robust career pathways for young adults to help meet their short and long-term hiring challenges. For the 54% of U.S. employers experiencing talent shortages that lead to inconsistency in meeting product and service demands and increased employee turnover, diversifying workforce development strategies to reach qualified applicants is a business imperative that requires opportunity youth.

In the United States, opportunity youth are defined as the 5.5 million Americans between the ages of 18-24 seeking career opportunities that provide a livable income, foundational work experience, and educational advancement. When looking closer at the opportunity youth population, one is struck by the unsettling trend of higher unemployment rates for minority youth. As the annual U.S. buying power of African American and Latino communities reaches a combined $1.4 trillion and with demographic trends projecting a minority-majority nation by 2060, youth unemployment among minorities threatens the stability of the middle-class and the competitive edge of U.S. businesses.

The opportunity divide challenge can seem insurmountable.  However, by working together we can create innovative solutions for businesses, communities, and the next generation of talent. We need to engage youth as producers, not just consumers. This understanding is the driving force and impetus for LeadersUp. We are a workforce intermediary helping businesses meet their entry-level and middle skills needs by connecting them to the untapped potential of opportunity youth.  After working with employers and community-based organizations in Los Angeles and Chicago, (cities with over 150,000 unemployed youth each) and expanding initiatives to the San Francisco Bay Area, we can now provide the following insights for helping businesses recruit and retain opportunity youth talent:
  • Start with the End in Mind The first step in activating industry to include a diverse, multicultural talent base is to examine their current talent pain points and research future talent needs. This approach allows for companies to determine the absolute skills necessary for applicants–from the ones that can be gained during on-the-job training. With this knowledge, programs can be developed to create the required skills the workforce will need to achieve company goals.
  • Partnerships Drive Impact Closing the talent divide requires a communication system comprised of public and private leaders, businesses, and community partners who provide continuous feedback to inform each other of resources and needs. This communication bond creates a channel of information to affect real change and opportunity.  It provides a forum to quantify supply and demand. By allowing businesses to share the skills they expect applicants to possess — they can ensure young adults are being prepared with essential competencies. The result is a sustainable talent pool that consistently adds value to the companies and improves their bottom line.
  • Representation Matters To have an equitable and inclusive workforce, it is critical that diverse leaders join and sustain this movement to engage opportunity youth. For the African American and Latino youth that bear the brunt of low unemployment rates, it is necessary for them to see leaders who understand their unique stories, believe in their capabilities, and their future. This leadership will accelerate the creation of opportunities for young adults to participate in and benefit from the economy.Inclusive economics is applying the breadth of skills, talent, and ingenuity represented by opportunity youth towards making our companies, communities, and country stronger. The same innovative thinking that helped create the digital and information economy will close the opportunity divide and create the workforce our future demands.





To learn more about LeadersUp and for information on their upcoming career fair on May 25 in partnership with Los Angeles SouthWest College, visit www.leadersup.org.

Jeffery Wallace (@JefferyTDW) is the President & CEO of LeadersUp and social innovator committed to bridging the opportunity divide between the untapped potential of young people and the business challenge of finding and keeping the best talent. Prior to founding LeadersUp, Jeffery served as the Chief of Staff and Sr. Program Officer for the Los Angeles Urban League, where he led the human capital, programmatic architecture, and policy agenda of the comprehensive community change initiative in South Los Angeles. He is a native of Richmond, California, a graduate of University of California Los Angeles and University of California Berkeley, and currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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.


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