Ready by 21

While many young Americans describe the receipt of a high school diploma as a moment in which all their hard work and commitment has finally ‘paid off’, their slightly older peers will be there to remind them that this ‘paid’ feeling is not to last.

Recently, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University surveyed 544 high school graduates who are not enrolled full time in college. Fully 73 percent of these young Americans feel that a college degree is a necessary step in securing a successful future, only half said they will enroll in college in the near future.

It is assumed that those who do not go on to pursue a college education will try their luck in the workforce. Yet the survey noted that only 37 percent of people who graduated between 2006 and 2008 currently have a full-time job. Of those who graduated only a few years later in what the study dubbed the ‘recession era’ (2009-2011), a mere 16 percent had found full-time employment. Another 22 percent were working part time, but most wanted full-time work.

The main reason given by those who did not seek a college education was economics. In fact, 80 percent of respondents cited an economic barrier to going to college full time. Whether it is due to the high tuition, the need to work to support themselves, or the responsibility of caring for family, many who desire college simply cannot afford it.

The Rutgers survey noted that many chose to enter the workforce instead of going to college because most of their parents had done the same. However, only one in ten surveyed felt that they were “extremely well prepared by their high school to succeed in their job after graduation”. Furthermore, less than half of high school graduates without a college education thought that they would have more financial success than their parents.

In a sobering outlook on their future, barely half of the youth surveyed believed they would find a job that could be considered the start of their career within the “next few years”. Similarly, close to the same percent believed that if this job were to be found, it would come without health insurance.

As a result of the formidable unemployment concern in a nation considered the richest in the world, less than half of 18-24 year old high school graduates not enrolled full time in college believe that the near future holds for them a job that would allow them “to lead a comfortable life.”

At Corporate Voices for Working Families, much of our work is focused on identifying and promoting employer-driven solutions to the challenges facing young adults like those surveyed here.  Our own research on this population is summarized in our 2011 report, A Profile of Young Workers (16-26) in Low-Income Families. The study highlighted the financial and educational shortcomings associated with employees from low-income families, and contrasts their experience with that of their peers from higher-income households.

Similarly, our work with the New Options Project, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, aims to align the hiring needs of employers with new sources of untapped talent—including young people lacking a high school diploma, but eager to find meaningful career opportunities that match their skills. Recently, the New Options Project launched a micro-site called Connecting Youth and Business to aid employers in creating employment and educational opportunities for underserved or “opportunity” youth. And our Learn & Earn initiative and related work around postsecondary completion, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to encourage innovative partnerships between employers, community colleges and higher education institutions to help today’s “working learners”—often low-income young adults—complete their education while holding down a job.  By advancing policy solutions like these, we are working with progressive business leaders to improve the lives of too many young people who have been left behind in today’s challenging labor market.

At a time when the nation’s economy is stalled, the unemployment rate won’t budge, and public dollars for critical education, training, and social services are constrained, communities across America are seeking innovative ways to spark economic growth and ensure a skilled workforce for tomorrow.

Corporate Voices for Working Families has published two new resources that offer valuable guidance for local officials, employers and others teaming up to support children, youth and working families in their communities.  Both publications will be the focus of discussion at a Corporate Voices’ panel during the National Council of La Raza Workforce Development Forum, in Chicago on October 11 and 12.

Opportunities in the Workforce Readiness Pipeline: A Community Engagement Toolkit for Business, is designed to assist business and local leaders in developing successful, sustainable partnerships to ensure that more young people in their communities have the highest-quality education and supports they need to be successful today, and as the workforce we will depend on tomorrow.  The toolkit reflects the expertise of United Way Worldwide and the Workforce Strategy Center, content partners in the publication.  It offers practical advice and hands-on steps to investing in community improvement, and features case studies from leading corporate citizens like KPMG LLP’s Family for Literacy program, Baxter International’s Science@Work program, and the Bridging Richmond initiative, supported by the Altria Group.

Building the Business Case for Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce, also new from Corporate Voices, similarly profiles private-sector commitments to support education and workforce training for lower-skilled employees, and documents the substantial payoff to companies that have done so. Case studies include CVS/Caremark, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and the Johns Hopkins Hospital system.  Both CVS and KPMG executives will be featured panelists at the national La Raza conference on October 12.

“Our tools for community-business engagement address an urgent goal: Strengthening and expanding the most effective partnerships to ensure that more young people can step confidently into jobs leading to careers,” said John-Anthony Meza, Vice President of Workforce Readiness at Corporate Voices. “The nation’s prosperity depends more than ever on a well-prepared workforce, yet too many young Americans remain poorly equipped to excel in school today and in the economy of tomorrow.”

“Engaging the business community, nationally and locally, is a key aspect of ensuring that the nation’s young people are prepared for college, work and life. We are so pleased to partner with Corporate Voices on these tools to advance that important goal,” said Karen Pittman, President and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment.

These publications are the latest addition to a unique suite of tools offered by Corporate Voices, based on a decade of experience studying the workforce needs and expectations of employers nationwide.  Corporate Voices’ community-business engagement tools are produced through the Ready by 21® National Partnership, a team of national organizations committed to helping communities implement Ready by 21—a set of innovative strategies to improve the odds that all children and youth will be ready for college, work and life. The tools may be accessed on Corporate Voices’ website at


How can Washington streamline federal job-training investments that benefit employers and job-seekers alike?  That was the subject of a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, May 11, held by the House Education Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

Lawmakers reviewed findings from a recent report by the Government Accountability Office that has set reformers abuzz on Capitol Hill. It identified a laundry list of 47 different employment and training programs spanning nine federal agencies—costing taxpayers some $18 billion in 2009 alone.  The report has led to calls for sweeping program consolidation and funding cuts.   At the hearing, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), subcommittee chairman, said her panel is

… Dedicated to improving job training opportunities by streamlining unnecessary bureaucracy, eliminating duplicative programs, … and encouraging the creation of high-skill and high-wage opportunities for workers in the global economy.

In the rush to consolidate and save money, however, lawmakers should not

… Overlook the critical role that the nation’s workforce programs have played during the recession and will play as the economy recovers,” urged Evelyn Ganzglass, a workforce expert with the Center on Law and Social Policy. “At a time when nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed, workforce programs are helping those out of work and the underemployed find jobs, prepare for jobs and build skills for the future,” she said. “These programs also are helping employers find qualified workers as the nation recovers from the worst recession since the end of World War II.

The debate is sure to inform efforts to renew the Workforce Investment Act in Congress this year, and is likely to drive other changes in the main federal education and training programs.  Corporate Voices’ president Stephen Wing, who helped CVS Caremark pioneer its model workforce training initiatives in his long career there, sees an opportunity in the renewed focus on improving federal workforce programs.

Employers can and must be active partners in preparing the talent pool of skilled workers, but most companies aren’t taking advantage of the the public workforce system,” notes Wing. “Corporate Voices is committed to building greater engagement of the private sector–making it easier for business leaders to take advantage of federal training resources, and ensure more skilled and competitive employees in the process.

Corporate Voices has also explored employers’ perceptions of the nation’s troubling “skills gap” as well as potential policy prescriptions to address it in several recent publications, including From an Ill-Prepared to a Well-Prepared Workforce (January 2011) and Across the Great Divide (March 2011).   In the latter, co-published with Civic Enterprises in association with other trusted partners, our research led us to conclude that the way we train our young people in America today no longer produces workers with the types of skills that our businesses want to hire.

Consolidating duplicative programs and reducing bureaucracy may be part of the answer, but fundamentally rethinking the way we approach education and skills training in a 21st-century global economy is another matter entirely.   We hope federal lawmakers keep both goals in mind as they pursue needed reforms this year.

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