Youth Hold the Key: Building Your Workforce Today and in the Future

Abigail Carlton, Michael Ciccarone, Willa Seldon, and Vikki Tam
The Bridgespan Group and Bain & Company
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
May, 2015

“Without youth, our stores would close,” said one employer at a 2014 roundtable on youth employment, expressing the views of many firms that rely heavily on young workers to fill entry-level jobs. “We wouldn’t be able to keep up with the times technologically, with social media, and so on. Youth keep us current and keep us connected to the public.”

Across employers and industries, we have heard similar stories about the value young people bring to the workplace. Employers in manufacturing cited the need for serious hand-eye coordination and reported positive experiences with young people filling these roles. David L. Casey, CVS Health’s vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer emphasized that, “We have and will need youth within the company who know how to relate to future generations and use evolving technology.”

In the tremendously diverse American economy, some firms rely only marginally on these younger workers. For others, especially firms that need a lot of entry level employees, young workers are their lifeblood.

This paper focuses on the role that youth can play in helping employers meet some of their current and looming workforce challenges, and how companies can improve how they hire and retain youth. The data and research findings are based on a recent survey of 350 employers, more than 80 interviews with employers and workforce experts conducted during 2014 by The Bridgespan Group and Bain & Company, as well as a review of published literature. Much of this work focused specifically on the potential of the millions of young people—referred to here as “opportunity youth”—who are disconnected from both work and school, and lack a college degree, to address the needs of employers.

This paper highlights:

• The current and potential demand for workers under age 25 and the business rationales for hiring youth, including opportunity youth;

• Challenges experienced by employers in hiring and retaining the young workers they need;

• Current employer efforts to address their youth employment challenges and increase the pipeline of youth who can effectively fill job openings;

• The gaps between employer demand for talent and the supply of young workers; and

• The potential for addressing youth employment challenges through changing practices and establishing broad-based partnerships among employers and others focused on systems change.

Any discussion of youth employment must acknowledge that there are currently too few jobs for young people, and even where actual or potential demand exists, there are real obstacles to matching young people to jobs. Despite an array of efforts by individual employers to hire young people, whether because of business need or corporate social responsibility, these efforts are not reaching the scale needed to significantly reduce youth unemployment nor meet the workforce needs of employers today.

Workforce Development
North America