Philly’s youth unemployment rate has been hovering between 14 and 16 percent for the past few years — and that number jumps by 10 points when considering youth of color.
One way to tackle the issue? Prepare those young people for employment and then connect them to job opportunities. Seems pretty simple, right?
Since 1999, Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) has been equipping 12- to 24-year-olds with the tools to be successful in the workforce. Through initiatives such as Project U-Turn, PYN’s post-dropout education re-engagement program, and WorkReady, its work readiness program that tackles the skills gap, PYN created over 15,000 “high quality opportunities” for young people, according to its 2016-2017 annual report.
“We look for, and try to match our services to, young people who live in communities with higher poverty rates and lower youth employment rates,” said President and CEO Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend. “We are also looking at high school graduation rates at different schools because we want to make sure that those young people are also having the opportunity to extend their learning through work-based experiences.”
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Much of PYN’s work deals with collaborating with area employers in order to create opportunities for the young people that they serve. Fulmore-Townsend and the rest of the PYN team are in a unique position — they are able to identify the essential roles that employers can play in advancing youth skill building and workforce experience.
“Fueling our own talent pipeline is a critical economic development strategy and political strategy that can interrupt poverty,” Fulmore-Townsend said. “There are endless reasons that caring about youth employment makes not just good business sense, but good civic sense — good community sense.”
One of the first things that employers can do to support youth employment is ask for help. According to Fulmore-Townsend, PYN has the capability to work with employers to create “customized learning experiences” regardless of the industry or business.
Fulmore-Townsend also believes that businesses should “invest in closing the gap.” In order to continue to create a thriving economy, it is imperative that the movers and shakers of today pass along their knowledge to the workforce and business leaders of tomorrow, she said.
“We want to teach those entrepreneurial thinking skills to young people at an early stage,” she said.
Even on a macro level, contributing to youth employment is still beneficial to employers. When employers invite young adults into their startup or storefront, they are receiving new perspectives on a range of topics.
“It is not just social responsibility,” Fulmore-Townsend said. “Young people are bringing new ideas, they are bringing fresh talent, they are bringing technological savvy, they are bringing digital marketing. They are fresh eyes on your product, they are fresh eyes for your customers and their ingenuity and innovation is really valuable.”
Fulmore-Townsend noted that learning and workforce preparedness are two peas in the same pod, as opposed to poles at opposite ends of a spectrum: In order for the youth to be effectively employed, they must commit to being lifetime learners.
“We are never just talking about work only,” Fulmore-Townsend said. “We are talking about learning and work, we are talking about work as a prequel to learning, we are talking about learning for future preparation.”-30-
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