Investing in Young Adults to Create a 21st Century Talent Pipeline

February 5, 2015

In May 2014 Monroe Community College, in partnership with the Center for Governmental Research and the Rochester Business Journal, published the Rochester Area Skill Needs Assessment and Business Climate Survey and the report cited that “there are roughly 26,000 positions that are chronically difficult to fill in the Finger Lakes Region. Our agency serves that community and others like it where this crisis of labor is adversely affecting our businesses and, ultimately, the entire community. In lieu of being able have a sustainable hiring capacity, our communities risk losing these businesses as they relocate to where talent can more easily be sourced. 

We have recognized this challenge and have been working in our communities to create a pipeline of talent through Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HW-SC). For the past 28 years, HW-SC has earned national recognition as an innovative leading solution to poverty and the abysmal high school graduation rate, delivering consistent, measurable results for school districts and their students in the areas of high school graduation, college and career readiness, and employment.

We provide a full time, paid, professional youth advocate who engages students and families and helps them connect to academic, workforce, and social supports. Each advocate optimizes the potential of students and is held accountable for them achieving high school graduation, college readiness skills, job training, and a part time employment experience. HW-SC currently operates in Western and Central NY and Prince George’s County, MD in over 40 sites serving 4,200 students. 

In essence what we do is change the norm for students and families living in generational poverty by giving them a process to be successful which includes expanding access to educational and meaningful employment opportunities. What we provide to local businesses is access to trained, diverse, eager, and loyal young adults who have the full support of our program.

We know that employers who have made it a business strategy and priority to employ young adults are reaping significant benefits including a more diverse and loyal workforce, decreased turnover costs, early talent development, and stronger business results.

While some employment partners, like Wegmans, do a great job of taking the lead in developing new employees, we find that many companies lack the resources to do this – especially with young adults who are still in school and may never have previously held a job. HW-SC prepares students for entry into the workforce through its Jobs Institute and Youth Employment Training Academy (YETA), a 25-hour training program that helps youth develop interviewing and entry-level job skills. HW-SC students are coached to standards for attendance, grades, and positive attitudes, and then participate in YETA.

The students are taught critical employment skills including how to dress, the importance of showing up to work on time, how to manage conflict in the work place with a co-worker or boss, how to write a resume, and successfully be interviewed. At the end of the YETA program, students go through mock interviews and are provided real-time feedback. They are then eligible to apply for a job with a local HW-SC employment partner. Employment exposes students to career opportunities and enables them to develop marketable job skills, as well as earn money toward college tuition.

In order to be an employment partner we require that employers provide year-round part time jobs, remain engaged with our students both by staying in touch with their academic progress and providing coaching and mentorship, and provide flexibility to work with students’ schedules. Our program seeks employment partners across a breadth of career areas so that the students have the opportunity to match their skills and interests with available jobs.

We know that when we invest in youth to get them through high school while providing them with soft skills training and year-round employment with an employment partner, we can double graduation rates to well over 90% while providing much needed entry level talent in our local communities. 

We know that employers who have made it a business strategy and priority to employ young adults are reaping significant benefits including a more diverse and loyal workforce, decreased turnover costs, early talent development, and stronger business results.

Young adults want to work. Businesses need a new generation of talent. When schools, businesses, and nonprofit agencies partner using proven models like Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, we can close employment gaps while strengthening economic and social viability in our businesses and our communities. 

On February 26, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will release a white paper titled, "Making Youth Employment Work: Essential Elements for a Successful Strategy" at the National Opportunity Summit in Washington, DC. Learn more here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dennis Richardson is President and CEO of the Hillside Family of Agencies.