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
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.
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.