Rather than spin their wheels, em­ploy­ers need to tap youths

Peo­ple ages 16-24 who aren’t in school and aren’t work­ing could help strapped com­pa­nies

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Aldo Svaldi

Faced with one of the tight­est la­bor mar­kets in the coun­try, busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives in metro Den­ver will need to get more cre­ative and open-minded about how and whom they hire.

“Two-point-three per­cent un­em­ploy­ment is all hands on deck,” Kelly Brough, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Den­ver Metro Cham­ber of Com­merce said dur­ing a panel on work­force de­vel­op­ment at the cham­ber’s an­nual State of the City Lun­cheon in Den­ver on Tues­day.

Fort Collins, Boul­der, Gree­ley and metro Den­ver claimed four of the 10 low­est un­em­ploy­ment rates in the na­tion in June, and many em­ploy­ers are strug­gling to find enough help. Brough said youths ages 16-24 who aren’t in school and aren’t em­ployed num­ber about 9,000 in Den­ver and rep­re­sent an un­tapped la­bor pool.

But hir­ing and men­tor­ing “op­por­tu­nity youth” re­quires a change in mind-set, from view­ing them as those kids to “our kids,” said Stephen Pa­trick, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Aspen Fo­rum for Com­mu­nity So­lu­tions at the Aspen In­sti­tute.

For starters, many job po­si­tions re­quire a four-year col­lege de­gree, more as a screen­ing re­quire­ment than as a ne­ces­sity, said Marie Davis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the 100,000 Op­por­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive and pre­vi­ously the re­cruit­ing man­ager at Chipo­tle Mex­i­can Grill.

“Look at ways to bring peo­ple in rather than keep them out the door,” said Davis.

Elim­i­nat­ing up-front back­ground checks can help, Pa­trick said. Some­times teens and young adults make mis­takes that don’t de­fine who they are, but limit their

op­por­tu­ni­ties to work. Of­ten they have a strong mo­ti­va­tion to do bet­ter.

Pan­elists said em­ploy­ers need to be more flex­i­ble with work ar­range­ments, so in­terns and em­ploy­ees can at­tend school or train­ing pro­grams to im­prove their skills.

Pa­trick said an­other cre­ative ap­proach some em­ploy­ers are tak­ing is at­tach­ing col­lege cred­its to in­tern­ships or work pro­grams. Young work­ers who had no ex­pec­ta­tion of col­lege in their fu­ture sud­denly are in­tro­duced to the pos­si­bil­ity.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t have that guid­ance,” he said. Some em­ploy­ers are even pay­ing young work- ers for the three hours it takes to fill out a fi­nan­cialaid ap­pli­ca­tion.

Pay­ing in­terns can be cru­cial. Not only will they do a bet­ter job, but the money will help them take the next steps to bet­ter their lives, pan­elists said. And mak­ing a per­sonal in­vest­ment is huge. Serv­ing as a men­tor and role model is re­ward­ing to both sides.

Is­rael Juarez, youth en­gage­ment strate­gist for the Den­ver Op­por­tu­nity Youth Ini­tia­tive, said the big­gest ben­e­fit from the pro­gram per­son­ally has been the men­tors he has met and who have in­flu­enced him. But money also mat­ters.

“For some op­por­tu­nity youth, they are the house­hold keepers. They had chil­dren at a young age that they need to sup­port, and they couldn’t take an in­tern­ship be­cause the pay wasn’t there. Now that we are switch­ing the model, they now have that op­por­tu­nity to take the next steps to­ward their ca­reer,” Juarez said.

For those not mo­ti­vated by al­tru­ism, Pa­trick makes an eco­nomic ar­gu­ment — bring­ing more peo­ple into the mid­dle class. The U.S., which once ranked first for the share of its pop­u­la­tion in the mid­dle class, has slipped to 27th, he said.

Brough added that metro Den­ver’s eco­nomic ad­van­tage comes from the qual­ity of its work­force. To the de­gree more work­ers now on the side­lines can ob­tain needed skills, the bet­ter for ev­ery­one, she said, later urg­ing the au­di­ence to join the Den­ver Op­por­tu­nity Youth Ini­tia­tive.

Joe Amon, Den­ver Post file

Je­sus Dil­lal­pando, 17, builds a fly­wheel car us­ing 3-D-printed com­po­nents dur­ing a tech­ni­cian class at Emily Grif­fith Tech­ni­cal Col­lege in Den­ver in March 2016.

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