Before economic uncertainty gripped the nation, young people already faced a jobs crisis. The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds stood at more than double the national average. Summer jobs, once a rite of passage for students, were becoming increasingly rare, and youth working year-round faced increased competition for low-wage work.
Now, without quick and decisive action, the coronavirus pandemic could send young people into economic peril. It could take years for them to recover. Major employers of young people–food service and hospitality–are experiencing significant impact. More than 8 million restaurant employees, for example, have been laid off or furloughed.
Young people must not be forgotten as policymakers and business leaders respond to the current crisis. There are clear steps they should take to help connect young people with jobs, internships, and skills training.
Doing so is not just in the interest of today’s teens and young adults; it’s smart economics. Research has shown that early work experience can have a powerful effect on young people’s future earnings and job quality and can even reduce crime.
Unfortunately, there are already worrying signs that young people are being left behind.
In New York City and elsewhere, officials are cutting off a critical source of employment for teenagers—summer youth employment programs. These paid experiences exist in cities nationwide, are often aimed at engaging young people from under-resourced communities, and connect hundreds of thousands of young people to jobs. New York City’s employs more than 75,000 youth. The programs provide a crucial link between youth and the workforce, helping young people gain skills, increase professional connections, and position themselves for success.
Instead of cancelling these summer programs or putting summer hiring on hold, cities and employers must pursue innovative solutions, like offering virtual work opportunities and connecting students to places that are ramping up hiring. With schools shuttered across the country, educators are warning of a ‘lost spring’ for students. There’s still time to ensure that these young people don’t face a lost summer as well.
Of course, employment, specifically youth employment, will look different for the foreseeable future. The safety and wellbeing of young people and employers must remain front of mind. But innovative solutions exist, and many are already being implemented.
The Philadelphia Youth Network and its partners have joined together to create a virtual summer jobs initiative that will use both digital and virtual experiences to build skills that will prepare young people for the workplaces of the future. The nonprofit Genesys Works is collaborating with employers like Cargill, Salesforce, and AT&T to connect young people to remote internships. As companies solve for new challenges, they are finding benefit in hiring flexible support to address immediate needs. For example, the nonprofit’s Northern Virginia students are continuing their internships remotely. Rustin Adjula, a high school student in Fairfax, Va., is providing computer help desk support at a local credit union, which aligns with his long-term goal of establishing a career in the IT field. Seventeen-year-old Sofanyas Genene, who is considering pursuing a programming career, is interning at a large company where he’s writing code and analyzing security scans.
More employers should explore these remote work options. Fortunately, they don’t have to go it alone. National and local organizations are connecting employers to young talent, often with the help of innovative technology. Symba, an internship management platform, is helping employers find and manage interns. In California, iFoster has equipped more than 7,500 foster youth with smartphones and laptops to navigate school and employment.
Policymakers and business leaders should also consider ways to connect young people to the thousands of jobs that many employers are desperate to fill. Retailers like Walmart and CVS are hiring scores of employees daily to keep up with demand. Health care agencies will need unprecedented numbers of workers to help conduct contact tracing as cities work to stop the spread of the virus. Each open position is an opportunity for struggling young people to contribute to the recovery while gaining valuable job skills and connections that will help set them on a secure career pathway.
We can also support young people who are not working or in school by increasing access to training and professional development opportunities. Right now, there are online courses in coding, business, and data science on sites such as Saylor Academy. While these courses are free, the completion certificates cost money. Udemy is another online database with upskilling and credential courses available to the public for a small fee. We are urging philanthropists, foundations, and businesses to subsidize these programs for young people, increasing their availability so that youth have the tools they need to compete in, and contribute to, the post-coronavirus economy.
Policymakers and business leaders should act now to invest in young people. If given the opportunity, young people will help drive America’s recovery and revival.
The YES Project is possible thanks to the generous support of AT&T, Citi Foundation and State Farm.