America’s greatest resources have always been the talent of its people and the innovation of its businesses. Businesses know best what they need in employees, and best-practice companies are creating “Enterprising Pathways” to connect, cultivate and sustain previously untapped talent with the skills to succeed on the job. In Washington, both President Obama and Congress are working toward a plan that will put Americans back to work and jump-start the nation’s economy. This is reflected in President Obama’s recent jobs speech, the debates, and the proposed solutions from both parties regarding the debt ceiling and the American Jobs Act. With the business community’s long-standing need for skilled and educated employees – everyone needs a win on jobs and the economy.  “Enterprising Pathways” can help make considerable progress toward finding a solution. By training untapped talent with workplace skills that match workforce needs, these “Enterprising Pathways” provide a greater opportunity for employees, and lead to the success of individual businesses and the overall economy.

Untapped talent, or so-called “disconnected youth” refer to out-of-school 16- to 24-year-olds who are motivated to succeed but frequently lack the skills needed to access meaningful work.  These young adults are often from low-income families who are less likely than those from higher income families to do well across a number of metrics, including completing high school, receiving postsecondary credentials, being continuously employed and having health insurance coverage according to a recent report on low income workers entitled A Profile of Young Workers (16-26) in Low-Income Families by Corporate Voices.

Drawing from that same report, just under half of the low-income young adults profiled have not received any postsecondary education, and many are struggling to complete high school.  This is serious, given that a majority of the jobs of the future will require at least some postsecondary education, according to Help Wanted Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018 by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.  Of those who have had some postsecondary education, only half have actually earned a degree.  The results, according to the report, suggest two themes: 1.) a large number of youth never make it into the advanced education pipeline; and 2.) many of those who do attempt an advanced degree will either delay or give up on completing their education.

According to another recent report released by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a “college degree is the key to economic opportunity, conferring substantially higher earnings on those with credentials than those without.”  And the statistics back it up—the median lifetime earnings by highest educational attainment for those who have not completed a high school diploma is $973,000; for those with a high diploma it is $1,304,000; it increases with an associate degree and with a bachelor’s degree, for which the median lifetime earnings is $2,268,000 (the earnings differ based on occupation, age, race/ethnicity and gender).

Increasingly, leading businesses are recognizing that young low-income employees or previously untapped talent matter to the business bottom line. This population not only represents customers today, but serves as a source of present and future talent.  Currently, a number of best practice companies are partnering with community organizations, community colleges and others to support the educational attainment and career opportunities of their workforce.  These companies are working to ensure that these employees have the education and skills they need to succeed not just in a job, but in a career – impacting not only their future earnings, but those of the company, with positive benefits for their entire community.

Corporate Voices has highlighted several of these companies and employers engaged in “Enterprising Pathway” partnerships through a series of micro-cases.  While these cases focus on innovative partnerships between nonprofit organizations and businesses to train untapped talent and expose them to educational and career opportunities, Corporate Voices also documents ways best practice companies are helping people to complete their postsecondary education through a Learn and Earn micro business case series. By focusing on how employers can close the gap between educational access and completion for untapped talent, they can play a positive role in addressing our national skills gap and unrelenting unemployment.

Corporate Voices has just released three new Learn and Earn micro business cases, including cases that spotlight Applied Scientific Instrumentation’s partnership with Lane Community College in Oregon; Crest Cadillac’s partnership with Brookhaven College in Dallas, Texas; and Millstone Power’s partnership with Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut.  All three employers, through close partnerships with community colleges, are participating in and contributing to enhancing career opportunities for young workers in their regions.

Now more than ever, businesses see the benefit of engaging and investing in the education and skills of their current and future workforce.  Enterprising Pathway and Learn and Earn partnerships, led and driven by the business community, are two unique ways they can develop future talent and become more competitive in the 21st century economy.