July 18, 2017

TODAY, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03), along with Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (NC-05) hosted a bipartisan panel discussion with business leaders, advocates, and youth on the return on investment in hiring opportunity youth, barriers to hiring opportunity youth, and employer-led solutions to youth unemployment.

Nearly 5 million young people, aged 16 to 24, are out of school and work.  Many of these young people–whether they have personal barriers, such as involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice system, or come from low-opportunity communities– face substantial barriers to employment. Despite these barriers, these disconnected young people, commonly referred to as “opportunity youth,” can add great social and economic value to our communities and the economy.

Increased employer investment in opportunity youth is a win-win proposition for youth and businesses,” said Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03). “Businesses play a crucial role in providing youth with the employment opportunities and supports that can set them on a path towards success. Opportunity youth, who are diverse, creative, and energized, are a high-value asset for employers that wish to improve retention, spur innovation, and fill entry-level positions.”

“Discussions—such as the ones we have today—are important to help build a strong workforce and close the skills gap that currently exists in our country,” said Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (NC-05). “Members of Congress often emphasize the need for greater conversations between the public and private sector when it comes to addressing workforce development, and it is good that we are practicing what we preach.”

“The committee has already taken strong actions to strengthen our nation’s workforce, especially for young people, but our commitment does not end when the laws are passed,” continued Chairwoman Foxx. “We will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to build a stronger workforce for all hardworking Americans.”

For businesses, investing in opportunity youth is about more than just social responsibility–it’s an investment their next workforce.

“Youth connection is one of the most powerful indicators of a community’s level of opportunity. Opportunity Youth represent tremendous potential and talent for our communities, economy, and society,” said Monique Rizer, Executive Director of Opportunity Nation. “While these young people need opportunities to reconnect with education and employment, employers are increasingly seeking workers with a specific set of skills to meet the demands of a changing economy. Opportunity Youth are people with untapped talent we can’t afford to lose.”

Disconnection from school and work at the ages of 16-24 can leave youth without the entry-level work experience and post-secondary credentials needed to successfully transition into the labor market, at a great cost to the individual youth, local communities, and our nation.

“Employers are increasingly recognizing the business value of hiring, retaining and advancing opportunity youth,” said Nicole Trimble, Executive Director of the Impact Hiring Initiative, FSG. “Across the nation, we are working with large and small businesses unlocking the value of this hidden talent pool and sharing best practices with other companies. Everyone benefits from using business to address a social problem—the workers, the community, and the businesses.”

Across the nation, large and small businesses are stepping up to prioritize the hiring of opportunity youth and develop and disseminate business best practices to tap into this talent pool.

“Ultimately, our business has benefited from the hiring of these youth. We’ve seen the impact they have on our stores in the form of retention and excellent service,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Oclander (R), Director, Opportunity Youth, Global Social Impact, Starbucks. “But our commitment to opportunity youth doesn’t end with a job offer because their barriers don’t go away when we hire them. Often-times, this is a first job for our partners, so we help them build soft skills, like discipline and teamwork.”

“Not only do This Way Ahead participants gain confidence and marketable job experience, we’ve found graduates who are hired stay with our company twice as long as their peers and have higher engagement scores. This program is a smart talent and business strategy for Gap Inc. with proven results,” said Gail Gershon, Executive Director for Community Leadership at Gap Inc.

Improving employment outcomes for opportunity youth and helping employers find good workers are complimentary goals. We can no longer afford to overlook the economic value of opportunity youth.

“Unfortunately, millions of young adults across the US lack access to higher education and career readiness opportunities and programs such as Year Up,” said Taj Jackson, alumnus of Year Up and Former Opportunity Youth.  I’m excited to explore ways to improve this situation with leaders from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, employers and other advocates in today’s Bipartisan Panel Discussion.”

For our nation, local communities, and businesses to thrive, we must be willing to make the needed investments to put these young people on the path towards success. Investing in opportunity youth is more than just the right thing to do– it’s an investment in our shared future.