Key Education Transitions

Connecting 100,000 Disconnected and At-Risk Young Adults to Work

Dominique RaymondBy Dominique “Domy” Raymond, Senior Program Director, National Engagement and Philanthropy, USA Funds

We at USA Funds® strongly believe that work is the critical connection to promote the long-term success of the estimated 5.5 million disconnected young adults in this country. These are young people, ages 16 to 24, who are neither in school nor working. An additional untold number of young adults are at risk of becoming disconnected.

My USA Funds colleague Stephanie Nellons-Paige and I recently got a firsthand look at how to connect these young people to work. We attended the Chicago Opportunities Fair & Forum, which kicked off the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. This brainchild of Starbucks and the Schulz Family Foundation is designed to place 100,000 opportunity youths in jobs by 2018. More than 3,000 young people attended the Chicago event and were interviewed on the spot by some 29 employers. By the end of the one-day forum, 600 young people were offered jobs by Starbucks, JCPenney, CVS Health, Hilton, JP Morgan Chase and many other notable employers.


The Chicago forum was both a state-of-the-art forum and an extremely well-run initiative. Although we were impressed by the politicians, CEOs and celebrities present — musical artists Common and Usher were there! — what was clear is that the initiative’s success hinges on strategy and coordination. Prior to kick-starting the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, Starbucks insightfully created an organization, LeadersUp, to serve an important coordinating role of connecting employers, youth and workforce intermediaries. USA Funds is funding LeadersUp’s sites in Chicago and Los Angeles to connect disconnected youth with work. The organization’s board includes representatives of Starbucks’ suppliers — the employers who create those sandwiches, chai teas and mugs that we all love — to address their hiring pipeline issues with disconnected young adults in their communities.

As Stephanie and I meandered through Chicago’s massive convention center, smiling at seeing so many amazing youths ready to be hired, the forum and initiative brought to mind that leadership commitment matters. Successfully connecting youth to work requires leadership commitment on the parts of employers, educators and mayors. Community-based organizations and intermediaries can provide the critical “make it happen” strategies that are targeted for specific locales and populations. In addition, work experiences can help these youths make informed choices on selecting a major or career interest early on in their education experience.

The Chicago event also generated the following take-aways that we believe can benefit other employers who may be considering engaging with these communities of at-risk and disconnected young adults. Note that the following suggestions can benefit employers of any size and in any sector.

  • If you are considering hiring at-risk youth and disconnected young adults for meaningful positions, contact your city’s or region’s workforce investment board or intermediary, many of which can help you with prescreening of job applicants.
  • Collaborate with other employers and your suppliers to help fill positions in your company with local, talented youth and young adults.
  • Hiring youth can teach them about career paths they had never considered.
  • Create an education and talent pipeline with one of your community’s higher education institutions.

Kudos to Chicago and all of the other cities that will introduce at-risk youth and disconnected young adults to the wonderful world of work. The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is off to a fine start.

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