Many organizations found themselves adapting to a new normal over the last year as they struggled to keep employees connected and examined their current work culture, missions, and organizational values. As many now return to the workplace, re-establish in-person relationships, and restructure how we do business, business leaders should be asking themselves: Are we ready to meaningfully engage youth in the workplace? Are we ready to seize this opportunity and use the power of connection to embrace a mentoring mindset and support all young people, especially those who do not have strong connections to professional relationships and pathways?
Bringing youth into the workforce is not an altruistic act that only helps those looking to gain skills — it’s good for business. Youth bring fresh perspectives to workplace challenges, allow companies to expand capacity, build a diverse workforce pipeline, and advance leadership through mentoring. However, businesses must be willing to embrace the changes needed for youth to thrive in a work environment. This means prioritizing relationship-centered supports to ensure success and embracing equitable hiring strategies for young people who lack the social capital to open doors of opportunity through work.
Corporations say they value teamwork, and if this is true, then they should also explicitly and intentionally support the relationship-centered values and structures that encourage effective collaboration and support youth engagement. A 2019 study from Winona State University took a look at corporate values statements and found that of 51 value dimensions included in statements, teamwork appeared frequently – 66 times – but relationships, caring, and listening each appeared only twice. These are the values that help youth feel respected in a work environment. Through awareness and training, employers can shift their workplace culture to one that hires, values, and supports young people and prioritizes relationship-building skills and career pathways.
In addition to creating an environment where youth thrive, employers also need to evolve recruitment and supports for a diverse network. Organizations know that diverse teams are best equipped to innovate and solve problems, but are employers creating systems to hire the young people, who are disproportionately people of color or people with disabilities, that do not have a network to get them in the door? With over 50% of job opportunities still coming through personal connection, those without the social capital to access the workforce are often left on the sidelines. We must create opportunities for young students and people to build these connections and eliminate this employment barrier.
In the Winona State study, diversity was commonly cited – 38 times – in values statements. But are companies going out of their comfort zone to disrupt old hiring practices and reach diverse candidates outside of existing networks?
Wealth concentration in America is directly tied to our hiring practices, social capital, and workplace values. To dismantle systemic barriers and create a more equitable society, we need to rethink our outreach and hiring practices, embed mentoring initiatives into our workplaces, and be intentional about relationship-building to expand social capital for all young people. If we are to create a more diverse workforce pipeline that helps business excel and youth build the skills they need to thrive, then we need to take steps now. We cannot delay this progress anymore.
MENTOR and American Student Assistance (ASA) have teamed up to develop a comprehensive workforce development campaign aimed at providing employers the tools and resources needed to establish mentoring mindsets and start work-based mentoring initiatives.
We encourage employers to take a Workplace Equity Pledge and commit to becoming a partner in our efforts to embrace youth in the workforce. The campaign will spotlight partner organizations of all sizes that exemplify this work of putting values to practice. We will be sharing more information and resources about how organizations can bring relationship-based training to their staff to begin to shift structures and create a workplace where every young person can flourish.
Jean Eddy, President and CEO of American Student Assistance
Jean Eddy is the President and CEO of American Student Assistance (ASA), a non-profit dedicated to helping students discover potential career paths earlier in their education journey. Through grantmaking, partnerships, advocacy and direct-to-student programing, ASA’s goal is to help kids – as early as middle school– know themselves, know their options, and make informed choices about their education and career goals.
Prior to becoming its CEO in 2016, Jean spent over twenty-five years in higher education holding numerous senior level positions at Rhode Island School of Design, Brandeis University, and Northeastern University.
David Shapiro, Chief Executive Officer, MENTOR
David Shapiro is CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, the national organization unifying and elevating the youth mentoring field through expertise, advocacy, and recruitment. For more than 15 years, he has dedicated his career to driving equity through the power of relationships and is a servant leader for the mentoring movement.
Under Shapiro’s leadership, MENTOR has partnered with leading global brands including the NBA family, Nike, Starbucks, LinkedIn and others to expand the mentoring movement through recruitment; grew its national footprint to include 24 local Affiliates in communities nationwide; and has worked extensively with the Obama Foundation to center mentoring through My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Additionally, the U.S Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention selected MENTOR to establish and lead the National Mentoring Resource Center.