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Creating Opportunity: Working Together to Build an Inclusive Workforce

By Erik Estrada on February 5, 2016

In our last blog post, we identified the skills gap that contributes to America’s double digit youth unemployment rate. We also saw how grantee partner LeadersUp is closing the skills gap and connecting opportunity youth with career pathways. However, addressing skills alone cannot solve the workforce inequities we see today. While the Nation’s unemployment rate has improved, recent data shows that the unemployment rate for African American youth under the age of 20 is significantly higher than their white counterparts. Therefore, we believe a focus on racial equity must be part of the solution as well.

Monique“By addressing racial justice, we’re creating a more fair, just and inclusive economy.”
Monique Miles
Director — Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund
Deputy Director — Aspen Forum for Community Solutions

In less than 30 years, the demographics of our country are expected to shift. For the first time in our nation’s history, people of color will make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. This unprecedented change will coincide with the retirement of millions of baby boomers, most of which are white. This “graying of America”[1] will result in more employment opportunities available to an increasingly diverse next generation of workers. However, to make progress on reducing workforce inequity, we must ensure these opportunities are equally accessible to people of color.

For too long, these opportunities have not been equally accessible. Some groups, particularly young men of color, face additional barriers to entering the workforce. They are disproportionately affected by unjust systems that, we believe, harm more than help. These young men are at a higher risk of dropping out of high school, being involved with the criminal justice system and, ultimately, unemployment.

Thaddeus“If we don’t address systemic inequities and ensure all youth are ready to work, we’ll never be economically or culturally competitive with the rest of the world.”
Thaddeus Ferber
Vice President of Policy Advocacy — Forum for Youth Investment

We are committed to creating a more equitable society. A focus on equity not only aligns with our values, but we believe also creates a more competitive economy. Data from the National Equity Atlas shows us that a racially inclusive economy can lead to substantial GDP growth—more than $2 trillion per year. So it is important for us to support organizations like the Forum for Youth Investment and Jobs for the Future, which are working both individually and with others to create inclusive, fair and sustainable workforce solutions. Both are key contributors to the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, a cross-sector collaboration of nonprofits, businesses, philanthropy and government agencies that have come together to address the Nation’s biggest challenges—such as creating racial equity in the workforce and expanding career pathways for young men of color.

jff“We must work aggressively to change trajectories for people of color who have not had access to the opportunities they need to build wealth and advance in our economy.”
Mamadou Ndiaye
Associate Director — Jobs for the Future

The following examples highlight how they partner with the Aspen Forum to address some of these barriers in the workforce.

Opportunity Works
Led by Jobs for the Future (JFF), in collaboration with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, the Opportunity Works initiative aims to connect opportunity youth of color with career and education pathways through partnerships with local organizations across the country. Using JFF’s Back on Track framework, these organizations convene a cross-sector collaborative in their communities to improve outcomes for young people—with special attention paid to those who are homeless, and in or transitioning from the foster care and/or juvenile justice system. Opportunity Works is funded through a federal Social Innovation Fund award with generous match funding from the Andrus Family Fund and other foundations.

In San Francisco, the Road Map to Peace collaborative uses Back on Track to work with gang-involved/violence-exposed youth and help them not only achieve their secondary credential, but also transition into community-based training programs that lead to additional credentials with value in the local labor market. In New Orleans, JFF’s framework helps the EMPLOY collaborative ensure that youth of color participating in “learn and earn” programs are trained to successfully meet local industry demands and sustain themselves and their families through high-growth careers.

Opportunity Youth Network
The Opportunity Youth Network (OYN) brings together national non-profits, businesses, philanthropy, and government—along with young leaders—to align efforts to achieve the collective goal of reengaging one million young people who are out of work and out of school. As co-host of OYN, the Forum for Youth Investment works to align efforts inside and outside of government to improve polices and increase funding for opportunity youth.

Additionally, the Forum fosters collaboration between initiatives focused on opportunity youth as wells as boys and young men of color through the Opportunity Youth/Boys and Men of Color Alignment Strategy Group. Since the work that impacts both populations is often one in the same, the group’s main goal is to align national and local efforts to improve outcomes for youth. They do this by mapping opportunity youth and boys and men of color initiatives across the country and identifying opportunities for cross-collaboration between organizations. They have also established “rules of engagement” for national initiatives, which are informed by local leaders who serve vulnerable populations.

We know that there is still very much to do to create opportunities that are available and accessible to all young people. We are excited by the work of these partners and we look forward to seeing their collective impact translate into opportunity for millions of youth.

Thank you for reading our Creating Opportunity blog series. Please feel free to share on social media. Check back soon for new content by the Andrus Family Fund.


[1] The “graying of America” refers to the growth of the Nation’s older population (ages 65 and older). According to a 2014 U.S. Census report, by 2050 this group will make up more than one fifth of the entire U.S. population. This projected figure is more than double what it is currently.