Pathways to Employment: The Best Investment Society Can Make

What could you do with $6.31 trillion?

That’s enough to buy every major sports league (MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL and NASCAR), put millions of people through community college and still have trillions left over.

Unfortunately, $6.31 trillion is what it will cost society to cover the expenses associated with youth disconnection from school and work: lost earnings and tax revenue, corrections and public health expenditures, crime victim costs, welfare support programs, lower schooling and college subsidies and the cost of raising taxes to pay for public services.

These expenses make up the taxpayer and social burden ($1.56 trillion and $4.75 trillion respectively) that will fall on society if we fail to invest in the estimated 5.5 million youth who are disconnected from school and work—young people who we in the reconnection business refer to as “opportunity youth.”

Nearly one-third of all unemployed people in the United States are between the ages of 16-24.

As these young people continue down the path of disconnection from school and work, they reach adulthood lacking the skills and education necessary to secure jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. Without adequate education and employment, they are relegated to a life of poverty and dependence on the system.

Society has begun to shoulder the immediate burden of youth disconnection through lost earnings and tax revenues. However, these costs don’t hold a candle to the lifetime (after age 24) taxpayer and social costs with which we will have to contend if we don’t seize the opportunity presented by the nation’s current skills gap.



The Skills Challenge

By the year 2025, employers will need an estimated 23 million more degree holders to fill available jobs than our higher education system will have produced.

This highlights the difficulty that employers are having finding qualified workers. The reasons behind this complex issue are varied, and they include job seekers’ lack of hard and soft skills, certifications and training, educational attainment, work experience, work ethic and dependability.

The skills gap crisis along with the potential economic burden of youth disconnection will only worsen unless educators, workforce partners and businesses work together to improve the supply of qualified workers who match the needs of the labor market.

Opportunity Youth as the Solution

The formation of public-private partnerships for the purpose of co-creating education-to-career pathways is a growing movement that is picking up steam all across the nation.

Education-to-career pathways, as defined by Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, are well-articulated sequences of quality education and training offerings and supportive services that enable educationally underprepared youth and adults to advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment in a given industry sector or occupation. These pathways include multiple entry and exit points, and are as adaptable as opportunity youth.

Education-to-career pathways offer a highly effective strategy for creating much-needed sources of talent that businesses can tap to shore up their dwindling labor pools. Opportunity youth are known for their ability to overcome obstacles and juggle responsibilities. With proper education and training, they can be valuable assets to companies that understand how to build on their strengths.

Employer involvement in the development of education-to-career pathways allows youth to make the connection between what they learn in school and what it takes to succeed in the workforce through internships, apprenticeships, mentoring and more. Employers also provide strategic leadership as well as knowledge about skills standards.

Just over a year ago, a group of Durham’s largest employers joined with public sector leaders and workforce and education partners to form a community partnership, called Made in Durham, focused on building an education-to-career system that can meet the needs of both youth and employers.

Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the Institute of Medicine, leads this effort.

“It was sobering work: too many young people who grow up in Durham are not competitive in the Triangle’s education and labor market, stymied by entrenched poverty and structural inequities that stem from Durham’s complicated history of racial and socioeconomic segregation. Many struggle to find their way through a fragmented collection of institutions and organizations that are working to support young people, but not always working together,” says Dzau.

“As employers ourselves,” he says, “the Task Force challenged assumptions about why and how businesses get involved in developing the local workforce and what it would take to build stable, mutually productive relationships among employers, educators and public agencies to ensure young people in Durham are successful in the labor market and that employers benefit from more home-grown talent.”

We in Durham intend to “invest in” our opportunity youth now rather than pay for them down the road. It makes sense both for businesses and communities, and is a decision that will yield dividends for years to come.




For the past 15 years, Lydia Newman has worked in partnership with youth, families and the community to lessen the effect of risk factors experienced by opportunity youth—those not on track for academic and work success.

She is currently the Youth Transitions Strategist for Made in Durham, a high-impact, backbone organization which supports public and private partners in achieving a shared goal: increasing the rates of postsecondary attainment and livable-wage employment among youth ages 16-24. Her work involves facilitating strategic alignment between educational institutions, community-based organizations and businesses in order to build a robust talent pipeline and stem economic growth.

Newman has also played key roles in marketing, customer relations and commercial account management for a family-owned solid waste and recycling business. She holds a bachelor’s degree in child development and family relations from North Carolina Central University and a certificate in nonprofit management and master’s degree in public administration, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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,
Related News
View All News
More Than What's On Paper: Being Empowered By Change
September 6th, 2017 | By Grads of Life

What I remember most about my school years was playing video games. I don’t remember exactly what my first video game was...Read More

Career Readiness: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?
August 30th, 2017 | By Grads of Life

A funny thing happens during the time students begin to wrap up their college and career-preparation programs and prepare to...Read More

Strong Social Enterprises Boost Individual Lives And The Nation's Economy
June 8th, 2017 | By Grads of Life

When the baseball season started and new youth started their jobs at our sites in Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, and...Read More