How Employers Can Help Bridge The Youth Access Gap

If you ask a hiring manager for job search tips, one word is sure to be at the top of the list: networking. More than 75 percent of jobs are filled through networking, which should come as no surprise. If you have a relationship to an employer, even if it’s second- or third-hand, that employer sees you as a less risky hiring proposition because you are coming from a trusted source.

Employers can receive hundreds of resumes for one entry-level position, oftentimes leaving job seekers to feel as if their resumes fall into a “black hole.” Leveraging one’s personal and professional networks is key to getting that resume to the top of the pile. Unfortunately, many unemployed and underemployed job seekers don’t have access to the network they need to get hired, particularly those job seekers who live in communities with high unemployment and poverty rates.

At Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (Skills), we call this the “access gap.” It’s a barrier that prevents otherwise qualified job seekers from getting hired, and it’s of particular concern for unemployed and underemployed youth. They are even less likely to have a strong network, because they haven’t spent as much time in the workforce developing relationships.

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The access gap compounds the challenges that youth face in a job search. The unemployment rate is now at a nine-year low, but the tight labor market during the recession led many employers to increase their educational requirements over the past several years. College degree-holders have ended up filling some positions that had previously been filled by workers with high school degrees.

This combination of factors leaves Opportunity Youth, out-of-work, out-of-school young people aged 16 to 24, in a very tough position. It also helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers ages 20-24 is 8.1 percent, compared to 3.9 percent for workers ages 25 and over.

In Chicago, as in many urban areas, we also see racial disparities in youth employment. As of May, the Chicago area’s employment rate was 73 percent for white 20- to 24-year-olds, compared to just 47 percent for African Americans in the same age group.

So, how do we bridge the access gap? We must create a network for unemployed job seekers who lack one.

Since our launch in 2012, we’ve developed relationships with more than 50 Chicago-area employers, and as a result, we’ve placed more than 3,200 unemployed job seekers. Thirty percent of our 2015 placements were youth ages 17-24, and our goal is to increase that share to 40 percent moving forward.

Establishing these employer relationships is the first, crucial step in creating a network for unemployed job seekers. At Skills, we’ve seen that when employers trust that you understand their hiring needs and you refer job seekers who meet those needs, they will make explicit commitments to hire through your network—not to consider or to interview job seekers, but to hire.

Connecting unemployed youth with jobs will require a sustained, collaborative effort between governments, employers and nonprofits. Recently, we witnessed this in on a national scale when some of the country’s largest employers signed onto the First Job Compact at the White House, committing to hire Opportunity Youth.

This national vote of confidence is important, but ultimately, demand-driven solutions to youth unemployment must address the unique economic conditions and business needs of local communities. In cities and regions across the country, we need government and civic leaders to champion this approach, and establish their own initiatives to address the access gap.

Bridging the access gap will be key in ensuring that the economy works for all Americans, and employers must play a central role in that effort. In our experience at Skills, if you build a pipeline and identify great talent, employers will come.=




Marie Trzupek Lynch is the founding president and CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a nonprofit, public-private partnership that meets the hiring needs of employers by offering innovative solutions to place qualified, unemployed and underemployed candidates into available positions.

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.


Income Inequality, Skills Gap, Workforce Development,
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