The 5 Steps of Effective Employment Pathways

At Grads of Life, we encourage employers to adopt innovative strategies that meet their business needs by tapping into the potential of opportunity youth, defined as young adults ages 16 to 24 who are not engaged in education or employment. Today, 1 in 7 Americans in this age bracket – 5.8 million overall – fall into this category. Opportunity youth are impressive not only because of the size of their demographic, but also because of the attributes they bring to the workplace. Though they may have lacked access to higher education and skills development, these young people possess qualities like grit, resilience, and loyalty that make them valuable employees in a variety of sectors.

Grads of Life collects, develops, and shares resources to help employers create effective employment pathway models to build talent pipelines to access this underutilized population. Although these models vary depending on the needs of the employer, successful pathways typically arise as a collaboration between an employer and a non-profit, educational, or workforce development partner that works with opportunity youth. After analyzing dozens of partnerships between employers and service providers, we’ve distilled effective pathways down to the following components:



1. Outreach and Assessment

In the first stage of an employment pathway, the youth-serving partner identifies young adults in their area and assesses their readiness for the workplace. The employer supports this process by communicating information about the company’s talent needs, organizational culture, and desired qualities of candidates for the role(s) that they would like to fill.

2. Skill Development

The educational, nonprofit, or workforce development partner provides technical and soft skills development to the young adults to prepare them for success in the workplace. This training often includes skills for employment such as professional communication, time management, accountability, adaptability, and teamwork. The skill development process often takes place in a classroom and involves interactive learning to simulate the work environment. The employer supports this step by providing input on curriculum to highlight the critical skills that should be developed.

3. Work-Based Experience

From this point in the pathway onward, the employer takes the lead role in working with the young adults, while the partner organization provides support to both parties. The work-based experience consists of a structured on-site experience in which the participants learn by doing real work. In this way, they are able to acquire and hone skills specific to their role while bringing value to their host company or organization. At the same time, the employer is able to observe the young adult in this “try-before-you-buy” period to determine whether they are suited for employment. The partner organization supports both the employer and the young person in this stage to ensure clear communication and a mutually beneficial experience.

4. Hiring

If the employer finds that the young person is a strong candidate to satisfy an existing talent need, and if the young person is interested in the opportunity, the parties may reach the ideal outcome of the young person joining the company or organization as an employee. If employment is not the right solution for both parties, the young person has still gained valuable work experience and a potential professional reference for alternative opportunities, while the employer has learned more about how to engage with opportunity youth as a source of talent. The partner organization advises the young adult and provides coaching to the young adult as they accept a job offer or continue to explore opportunities.

5. Retention

The employer continues to provide on-the-job training and coaching for the young person after they achieve employment. In an ideal situation, there are clear opportunities and steps to career advancement in the company. The partner organization continues to mentor the young person to help them navigate the workplace and continue to strive for personal and professional development.

By using this framework to design a pathway, employers and youth-serving partners can ensure that they are successfully preparing young people for the workplace and satisfying the employer’s business needs. When executed successfully, employment pathways are a smart talent solution that creates substantial value for all parties involved.


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.


Hiring & Retention Practices, Workforce Development,
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