Media Highlights

How Starbucks’ Solutions City Shows the Importance of Leading on Youth Employment

by Paul Kendrick   •  

It was a striking moment. Last week, the mayor of a major American city was sitting in a coffee shop filled with community members, asking the employers who were present what more the city could do to get more young people hired and what was missing from this vitally important discussion. 

You could feel Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s passion about this issue.  An estimated 50,000 youth ages 16-24 are disconnected from school and work in the greater Baltimore metro area, representing a tragic loss of talent and potential. Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which represents business and civic leaders, and representatives of the city’s Hire One program that aims for every business owner to hire at least one teen or young adult, described how their focused efforts are producing results.

I thought to myself, this should be happening in every community in America. Business leaders, political leadership and youth themselves should all sit in a coffee shop having a conversation about what we can all do to get young Americans good jobs.

Thankfully, Starbucks’ Solutions City program had brought us together. In five cities across the country, including Baltimore, Starbucks is promoting cross-sector collaboration on the issue of youth employment. Given that partnerships among likely and unlikely allies is what Opportunity Nation is all about, I was proud to represent us at the gathering on October 21. We are also proud to have coalition partners like Youth Opportunity Baltimore who are working everyday to get young people on a career path, as we profiled in our WIOA in Action series

Starbucks’ Chief Community Officer, Blair Taylor kicked off the meeting by focusing on the fact that there are millions of “disconnected” or “opportunity” youth and this is one of the most pressing issues of our time. According to the 2014 Opportunity Index, there are 5.6 million teens and young adults whose talents we need to get our economy off the sidelines. 

Starbucks wants to hire and engage these young people. As Blair Taylor put it, Starbucks wants to “open the doors of opportunity in Baltimore.” By working with not just their stores but their whole supply chain to hire more teens and young adults, Starbucks is demonstrating the kind of corporate leadership that more companies need to embrace. He sees this commitment as a win for their business to get talented staff and more customers, not as charity. 

We face a historic challenge. Youth unemployment is at the highest levels since World War II. According to the 2014 Opportunity Index, there are more than 93,000 disconnected teens and young adults Maryland and nearly 18,000 of them are in the City of Baltimore alone. With 19% of youth “disconnected,” Baltimore ranks higher than the national average of 14% and state average of 12%.

Baltimore’s leaders understand the problem is complex, and that the solution will require the participation of schools, employers, government and nonprofits. Karen Sitnick of the Mayor’s Employment Development Office reminded us that if you have a summer job as a young person, you gain valuable skills and will make more during the rest of your life – so summer employment for youth is key. Often, no one has ever asked a business owner to hire a young person, says Donald Fry, so targeted appeals to employers is also essential.

Baltimore is trying to make sure that more youth gain work experience through Hire One:

  • Young adults are asked to identify their interests and the program takes these preferences into consideration as they help youth to prepare for interviews and find a placement that fits.
  • Students train first on “soft” skills, such as professional attire and conduct; collaborating well with others; and communication, which employers value highly. Employers often say, “We can train the young people on the job-specific stuff. Give me someone who will show up on time and can talk to people.”
  • Students receive a paycheck and advice on how to save it.

Pam Clark from Veolia Energy attested to the effectiveness of Hire One. Her company works on district energy systems and water resources. Many young people have never heard of what they do, let alone expressed an interest in working there. This past summer, Hire One placed two students there, and they got real-life experience while learning workplace etiquette. Pam Clark saw how their confidence grew just by doing things like saying “Good morning” to upper level management every day. Things went so well that the company has invited the students to return for the next school break.

Alan Fink, co-owner of ABC Box Company, talked about how he appreciated Hire One slotting interviews into his schedule, so he could select the candidates who would fit his business the best. Business owners need to feel like they are making a hire instead of just having someone assigned to them, he said. Alan Fink also enjoys being able to write one check at the start of the summer to keep things simple for bookkeeping.  The young man he hired through Hire One also turned out to be a successful employee this past summer, and Alan Fink has already invited him back.

We also got a chance to hear from students who have participated in Hire One. Rashaud Dubose told us he had been placed at Wells Fargo through the program and has since moved up from his initial role there.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Donald Fry and others will continue asking Baltimore companies to step up, particularly in the growing health, tech and financial service fields. This was the first of six Solution City Baltimore events focused on how business can work with government and nonprofits to expand youth employment, from summer jobs and beyond. The next one will be Dec. 1st.

Opportunity Nation is excited about this dynamic cross-sector collaboration and other successful programs in Baltimore designed to reduce youth disconnection, such as Youth Opportunity Baltimore’s work to increase the wage earning potential and educational credentials of teens and young adults who have left school.

Baltimore is showing the country how progress on youth employment won’t just happen by itself — it takes leadership and partnerships. What young Americans like Rashaud need is a chance to succeed, and programs like Starbucks’ Solutions City, Baltimore’s Hire One and Youth Opportunity Baltimore are providing thousands of teens and young adults their opportunity to shine.

Paul Kendrick

Paul Kendrick is Opportunity Nation’s Director of Coalition and Grassroots Engagement, working with partner organizations across the country, as well as Opportunity Nation’s Leaders and Scholars, on the campaign to increase opportunity in America. Read Paul's bio.

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