The First Essential Element to Hiring Young Adults

March 10, 2015

Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a white paper titled, Making Youth Employment Work: Essential Elements for Successful Strategy, to provide employers with proven approaches to onboarding programs for young adults. In the white paper, we lay out five essential elements of successful program implementation. Over the coming weeks, we will elaborate on each essential element for success on our blog. This week, we look at essential element #1.

Essential Element #1: Link your youth employment strategy to your business strategy and find champions.

“Not knowing where to start” is the most commonly cited barrier to youth employment initiative development. It can seem overwhelming if a company does not quite know how young adults might fit into the company’s overall business strategy, or if it cannot identify which jobs they could do.
 
Whereas some past youth employment initiatives relied on a philanthropic or charitable rationale, a growing number of employers are beginning to grasp the necessity of including youth talent pipelines as part of a long-term business plan.
 
Successful integration starts with top leadership, typically someone in the C-suite. Without this sponsorship, it will not become part of the company DNA and is unlikely to outlast the particular employee who introduced it. This is “absolutely essential,” says Augustin Melendez, president of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection.
 
Neil Sullivan of the Boston PIC concurs, adding that it is also necessary to identify a day-to-day sponsor who has both decision-making power and close understanding of talent needs—someone the young adults’ supervisors can go to for trouble-shooting. Human resources (HR) departments can also provide important support. Once efforts are under way, HR can be helpful in scaling the effort.
“Usually champions reveal themselves,” says Pawn Kongkosonkichkan, director of business development at Genesys Works. “They latch on to what we’re doing, and then they have the experience of having the young person contributing, and after that they take a vested interest and it grows from there.”
Youth employment champions—from the C-level and from the front lines—promote the concept that young workers can provide competitive advantage, identify potentially suitable roles that provide tangible value to both the company and the youth, and discuss possible structures of a customized program. “Usually champions reveal themselves,” says Pawn Kongkosonkichkan, director of business development at Genesys Works “They latch on to what we’re doing, and then they have the experience of having the young person contributing, and after that they take a vested interest and it grows from there.”
 
As Genesys Works CEO Alvarez advises, “The problem of getting in front of these decision makers in a noisy field is not trivial, but once we talk with them, they say, ‘Why would I say no to something that helps our bottom line and helps the young people in our community?’”
 
Once the champions and business rationale are in place, a successful strategy requires strategic mapping of likely youth-job alignments. “From a business perspective, it’s important to know what critical business success factors are, then hire talent against that—even at the internship or entry level,” says Standing Partnership’s Lackey.
 
Danny Vargas, founder and president of VARCom Solutions, concurs: “As a marketing and public relations firm, we need to make sure we are keeping up with the latest trends in marketing communications, social media, etc. To make sure we stay ‘in touch’ with the way people interact and communicate with each in today’s technology-driven society, we turn to high school and college students for both part-time work and for surveys to give us a firsthand sense of the best form of getting our message out to target audiences.”
 
In matching the right young adult to the right job, demographics, age, and experience levels all factor in. First, the work needs to be concrete and meaningful—both for the young adults, who need real experience, and for the companies, who need to see tangible benefits from their work.
 
Performing make-work jobs, filing assignments, and getting coffee result neither in a beneficial experience for the student nor a useful contribution to the employer, leaders report. Second, the jobs need to be “rightsized”—meaning sized to the young adult’s skill set and allowing for on-the-job training and higher expectations over time.
 
Next week we will examine essential element #2: Expand your talent sources.