There’s a sea of people under the age of 24 looking for jobs in the United States right now, and it has many people worried about what will happen if those people don’t find meaningful work. In every discussion about the growing wage gap and a disappearing middle class, the problem of finding enough good jobs for young workers springs up. If they’ve enrolled in college, chances are they’re struggling with enormous student loans. In some cases, that future prospect is enough to keep students from going to college at all, instead trying to make it on their own without a degree.
Some theories have made large U.S. corporations the scapegoat in the wage inequality issue, and perhaps there’s an ounce of truth there. But several of the largest companies in America have recently joined forces in a pledge to hire 100,000 new workers, all between the ages of 16 and 24. The move obviously has the largest affect on America’s youth, but it also has implications for the rest of the labor force. In the meantime, it makes Starbucks and the other 16 participating companies look like champions of the middle class.
The coffee behemoth spearheaded the effort with Microsoft, Target, Taco Bell, Lyft, Macy’s, and several others to form the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which basically is a goal to hire 100,000 people in the next three years. The goal is to be the largest employer-led coalition to create “meaningful employment” for the youngest sector of American workers, according to a press release about the initiative’s launch. According to the release there are 5.6 million youth who are out of school but not working, while at the same time there are 3.5 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. that don’t require a college degree.
Not just barista training
The initiative hopes to help younger workers learn how to get those jobs, while also helping employers create effective strategies for getting those potential employees to apply. “Companies engaged in the coalition will help to launch careers for young people who are just entering the workforce through internships, apprenticeships and on the job training, as well as to develop the potential of youth who have some work experience but are looking to gain new skills that will lead to a successful career,” the release states. In other words, these people might not work at Starbucks forever, but they’ll learn customer service skills and other vital resume builders that gets them off on the right foot.
This sort of mission makes perfect sense for a company like Starbucks, whose workforce is 80% millennials. The company has individually pledged to hire 10,000 of these young workers by 2018, which fits right into the company’s larger goals. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan pays the tuition for its student employees who are working toward their bachelor’s degrees online from Arizona State University, and CEO Howard Schultz told the New York Times companies have a responsibility to fill the gaps government can’t, or won’t, address. “We’re living at a time when for-profit public companies must redefine their responsibilities to the communities they serve and to their employees,” he said.
The companies will rely on the expertise of the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions to provide direct leadership to launch the hiring initiative in a number of cities. The first stop will be in Chicago, where on August 13 the companies aim to kickstart the program by making 200 on-the-spot job offers at its first of several job and training fairs around the country. The companies together seek to hire another 1,000 workers in the Chicago area over the next 18 months.
This sort of solution does fill a gap for young workers who otherwise are struggling to enter the workforce, Robert Lerman, a professor of economics at American University and an expert on youth employment told the New York Times. “Summer jobs and in-school jobs have declined rapidly for this group,” he said. “The lack of work experience translates into weaker outcomes even after they finish their schooling.”
The program isn’t without its critics, who claim that Starbucks and the other participating companies (which also include Walmart, JP Morgan Chase, and CVS Health) will barely make a dent in the millions of unemployed people across the country. But it’s a start, and it’s also a training ground. Schultz knows that some of Starbucks’ employees are hanging around long enough to get a start, or earn their degree. “Our initiative doesn’t end with a job. We have to make them stick around by providing a pathway to continuing their education,” he told the Times. Overall, Schultz said he hopes the initiative is a foundation to build upon.
It might not be a lifelong dream of many young Americans to serve up espresso, or become an employee at Target or another chain. But it’s a start, and many of the partnering companies also have scholarship programs or other perks to help its employees get ahead. In Starbucks’ case, the company announced that it’s already on the move by opening stores in Chicago, Milwaukee, Ferguson, Mo., and others that will aim to train people who might otherwise struggle to find a decent job. It might not be a perfect solution, but at least it’s action in a political climate that’s otherwise standing still.
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