Measuring Success Critical to Youth Employment

April 8, 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 last few weeks, we elaborated on each essential element for success on our blog. This week, we look at the final essential element.

ESSENTIAL ELEMENT 5: Measure and improve over time

Depending on your company’s particular efforts surrounding youth employment, it may be hard to tell how well those efforts are performing. While the aforementioned companies consider young adults to be an important part of their talent pipelines, few currently separate them out in order to track outcomes. For example, filling entry-level positions might include people of all ages and backgrounds (e.g., veterans returning home), and young adults figure in as part of a broader training effort. Because of this, it can be easy for young adults to get lost in the shuffle of employee metrics, particularly at a large company.
However, some employers are monitoring the success of their young workers and targeting specific improvement efforts over time. As with any business strategy, measurements are critical to growth and improvements. When Caterpillar’s Gina Vassallo started, she recalls, “I could see we’re doing great things, but were we doing the right things at the right time? Could I measure the health of the talent pipeline?” To get clear insight into those questions so she could better map her talent needs, she spent time in the early years defining metrics and competencies.
In some cases, it may be useful to measure a particular group to see the bigger picture. Vassallo points out that in Caterpillar’s leadership program, the employees come in as a group, thus allowing the company to create metrics around their performance and contributions in ways that provide guidance for other populations. Efforts to extend the program are in the works.
In addition, Vassallo is constantly looking for ways to modernize and improve training. “I’m trying to move toward more modern competency training and making it flexible: more simulation vs. traditional one-size-fits-all.” She says that her team is modifying its approach to be more relevant to trainees, for example, by taking a more blended approach to learning. It fortifies formal training and knowledge tests with on-the job application and skill assessment.
“This is a more comprehensive talent development process focused on continuous improvement rather than on the belief that training happens once,” she says. “It is also intentional and personal, recognizing that people develop skills in different ways and in a different timeline. We want the time and investment spent in development to be viewed as value added by both the individual and the company.” 
The tangible improvements strengthen the company overall. The Wegmans team reports: “As a company, one of our five key measures is retention, and our total company turnover is 19%, which is about half of the industry average. In addition, we believe that that lower turnover translates into significant savings for us from training and recruitment costs as well as helps us with our overall employment brand and ability to attract and engage new employees.”
To the extent possible, measuring variables that matter to the company—e.g., lower savings contributions are critical to making the case for youth employment initiatives. Measuring progress can demonstrate how a youth employment strategy goes beyond the social good and can make the business case to other stakeholders for the positive effects such a plan can have, as well as what areas require improvement.
Measuring and demonstrating success is critical to widening buy-in and, in turn, helping grow youth employment efforts. Pawn Kongkosonkichkan of Genesys Works tells the story of how one 17-year old engineering student interning for Kinder Morgan did the work of a full-time adult contractor. The intern ended up saving the company significantly more money than what they were paying for the service, and on the heels of students’ general positive performance and that standout example, word of the internships’ results spread—and placements in the company more than doubled.
If you are just starting out with youth employment or are launching a new effort, such as working with a nonprofit partner, it is helpful to know that the process is iterative. Many of the companies cited here experimented at a small scale, realized firsthand what young adults could contribute, and built efforts from there. In other words, it is not necessary to know everything about employing youth to begin doing it.