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Strategies to Engage Opportunity Youth in the Workforce

With unemployment at an all-time low, employers need to ask themselves: Are your job postings causing your organization to miss great candidates or deterring high-quality candidates from applying?


As the chief operating officer of Generation USA, a workforce development nonprofit in 12 United States cities, I often talk with employers who are desperate to hire talented individuals for entry-level vacancies. My team and I work closely with C-suite and human resources professionals to understand their pain points, analyze costs for hiring and retention, and develop employment training programs that create a strong pipeline of candidates with the skills and determination to succeed.

An often-overlooked group among the job candidate base are opportunity youth, defined by the Rockefeller Foundation as young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither in school, nor working. In the U.S., that’s an untapped talent pool of 6.7 million individuals.

So, how do you attract, connect, train, and retain these candidates? Here are three key steps:

  1. Evaluate practices.
  2. Adjust requirements.
  3. Align compensation and showcase benefits.

Evaluate Your Practices, At No Cost
The first step in attracting candidates to entry-level jobs is to take a look at how you’re spending your recruitment dollars and identifying the persona of the right candidate. Pilot programs around the country that connect opportunity youth with entry-level roles, known as impact hiring, demonstrate a clear ROI for employers. Recruiting, onboarding and training contribute to nearly 40% of the total cost-per-hire. Turnover and related loss of productivity often accounts for an additional 50% of the total cost-per-hire. Organizations such as ours are partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation to develop free tools, like Generation’s ROI estimator, that help employers evaluate these costs and provide solutions to make the hiring process more efficient. 

Groups like Talent ReWire and Grads of Life are also offering a full compendium of tools, including the Opportunity Navigator, to help analyze hiring practices and address the pain points of finding entry-level talent. Generation’s ROI estimator can also be found in the compendium.

Get Flexible: Adapt Your Requirements
Requiring a two-year or four-year degree for job candidates has long been the norm. However, the degree requirement dramatically limits your candidate pool. It also reduces diversity in your candidates, since opportunity youth, most often people of color, face significant barriers to college enrollment and completion.

Alternatively, bootcamp-style programs that are free and accessible focus on skill-building and are an effective way to address hiring needs. Boot camps can adapt to rapidly changing employer needs and assist students in meeting those needs by training them in both technical skills acquisition and behaviors and mindset changes.

Instead of requiring a degree, tailoring the job description to highlight skills and competencies necessary for a successful new employee will not only expand your pool of employees, it will lead to higher employee engagement and retention.

Align Compensation with Reality and Provide Benefits That Offer Stability
Hiring at any level is a substantial investment and it may be tempting to offer lower wages, knowing that experience is a valuable commodity. Often, qualified candidates cannot afford to take a prestigious but low-paying job. Demonstrate commitment to attracting and retaining young talent from diverse backgrounds by adjusting your compensation practices so that your entry-level employees earn a sustainable wage.

In-house training services and evaluating systems are costly. Offset the costs of training, onboarding, and evaluating your practices by working with organizations such as Generation who have the expertise and funding to recruit, train, place, and evaluate your company.

Benefits matter, as they provide stability for your employees. Balance traditional benefits with a mix of culture-building perks and transparent health and financial wellness perks. If you have a health insurance plan with low premiums and offer paid sick leave, call those benefits out explicitly. When employees are hired, provide onboarding that encourages employees to enroll in retirement plans or utilize transportation assistance programs.

By clarifying and showcasing these benefits and following through on enrollment communications, you’ll recruit and retain employees, bringing down your cost-per-hire and increasing your employee engagement, retention, and ultimately, satisfaction.

Attract, Connect, Train, Retain
Leading companies are seeing significant business benefits such as reduced turnover, improved retention, and increased diversity and employee engagement as a result of implementing opportunity employment practices. Reworking your job postings to appeal to a wider range of candidates, especially opportunity youth, is just the beginning of a larger hiring strategy.

Companies won’t be able to fill their hiring needs as the economy continues to change and grow. If you’re ready to evaluate your hiring practices, a great place to start is with your job postings for entry-level roles. Your academic requirements, compensation and benefits information may be creating barriers for potential candidates, but small changes can help you recruit excellent young adults whose experiences and perspectives push your company forward. 

About the Author

Sean Segal is the chief operation officer at Generation USA.

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