At-Risk Youth in the Talent Pool

sittingversusstanding-debateWhen most talent managers think about so-called “at-risk youth,” they are more likely to think about them in the context of a seasonal food or clothing drive or charity event than in the context of recruitment. The grim reality is that for a lot of “at-risk youth”–in the the United States, these youth are often Black or Hispanic and living in families with annual incomes well under the poverty line–they are already at a disadvantage in the workforce because recruiters are not looking to recruit them or can’t imagine how they might fit into the workplace.

Recently, Gap Inc., which hires thousands of entry-level workers each year, has decided to turn their attention to what they have come to see as an under utilized talent pool. As reported in this week’s Harvard Business Review, “Gap is joining a growing corps of large companies that are turning to an overlooked pool of entry-level talent: the 5.5 million 16-to-24-year-olds, called ‘opportunity youth,’ who are out of school and out of work.” The benefits of working with the demographic are obvious: It’s good for youth, its good for the economy and for business. But working with young people from at-risk backgrounds also means that HR managers need to adopt new approaches when it comes to screening, onboarding and training talent. Two of the most critical changes are explored below.

Screen for Commitment with the Support of Non-Profit Partners

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 12.01.16 PMFrom Gap to CVS, most companies working to onboard at-risk youth report working with non-profits. These non-profit partners help to find and select young people who appear to possess the right skills to step up to the challenge. While relying on nonprofits to recruit candidates may sound odd, in fact, most businesses already do this informally. For many years, private companies have relied on old networks, from specific elite colleges to Greek societies, to help them find promising young workers. In this case, private companies are simply tapping into different types of networks for support.

The Gap, for example, has a partnership with This Way Ahead (TWA). As reported in the HBR: “Gap Inc. relies on TWA to teach job readiness and life skills to teens and young adults from low-income communities while also generating proven talent pipeline and business benefits. By 2020 the company expects that 10,000 teens and young adults will have participated in TWA.  About 75% will receive offers for permanent positions, and company data shows that employees brought in through TWA stay twice as long as their peers. That’s strategic because 51% of store managers started as entry-level associates.” Other organizations have teamed up with Year Up, BankWork$, YouthBuilt and iFoster, which are organizations that teach young people to dress, act and collaborate in ways that essential to build careers in everything from finance to sales to IT.

Screen for Aptitude not Formal Education

Aptitude tests are often critiqued but some researchers suggests that at least some groups may benefit from aptitude tests too.  One study conducted by Innovate + Educated found that while only 1% of unemployed New Mexico young adults met criteria for jobs that required a college education, a startling 33% were considered job-ready when measured by skills and aptitude alone. This means that up to 32% of youth, without a college education, may be being screened out of jobs that they could excel in. This, notably, reflects the findings of major tech companies like Google, which are increasingly relying on aptitude tests and not on college pedigree or even college degrees in their recruitment process. While there is still mixed evidence about whether or not aptitude tests alone can make screening processes more equitable and solve broad diversity problems across industries, the findings of the New Mexico study suggests that this may be the case.

Extend Your Onboarding and Training Programs

There is no question that if you’re going to tap in the unemployed youth talent pool, you’ll also need to rethink your onboarding process and approach to training. Expect onboarding to take longer (e.g., your new employees may have never before had a job and need additional support setting up their payroll and filling out tax forms). Also, expect to pour more money into training during the onboarding period and moving forward. The payback, however, is potentially huge. There’s growing evidence that with the right support, commitment young people from at-risk backgrounds are more dedicated to their employers, less likely to change jobs, and more likely to advance in an organization over time.

November 5, 2016   Updated :November 5, 2016      

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