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Two Employers Share Tips for Starting a Youth Jobs Program

Summer youth employment can play a key role in the pandemic recovery—but more opportunities are needed

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chicago Fed started talking to local and regional community leaders on how to best support a truly inclusive economic recovery.

One intervention came up repeatedly in conversations across the bank’s district: Place more youth into internships, apprenticeships, and jobs. This idea drew particular interest given the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on young people and a growing body of research showing that youth jobs programs can have real promise. Summer jobs programs, for example, can reduce violent crime arrests by 43% and lower incarceration rates by up to 50% in the months following program participation.

Despite the benefits of these programs, conversations with community leaders found a gap in available opportunities. Before the pandemic, for example, only half of the nearly 60,000 youth applicants to Chicago’s One Summer Chicago program were typically placed in a position. Over the last few summers, this gap has fallen short of the heightened needs of youth.

How can employers get involved as the region emerges from the pandemic? We reached out to two regional employers who have launched successful year-round employment programs for older youth to learn about their experiences.

In conversations with Pamyla Brown, the Community and Citizenship Director of Turner Construction, and Michael Chiappetta, the Director of Chicago Market Development for Accenture, we learned that employment and apprenticeships programs don’t only benefit participants—they can also help regional employers recruit and retain the talent they need.

Here, we share several pieces of advice from Brown and Chiappetta for any employer looking to launch a program of their own.

Tip 1: Youth employment programs can be strong recruiting tools

Turner Construction runs two programs as a part of the nationwide Ace Mentoring Program: one in the summer that rotates participants among different jobs and one during the school year that embeds students in specific business units for the duration of the program.

According to Brown, Turner’s program is evidence that a job program doesn’t need to be big to be beneficial. Though the program hosts a handful of participants a year, Brown said it does a good job of helping the company identify students with promise. Typically, Turner’s Chicago office extends full-time job offers to at least two program participants a year.

“We’re always trying to recruit new talent,” said Brown. “And the Ace Mentoring Program is a great way to introduce young people to the full range of what we do.”

At Accenture, Michael Chiappetta said the company’s founding of the Chicago Apprenticeship Program—now a partnership with other regional employers—was “a corporate social responsibility effort that turned into a very strong and viable recruiting pipeline.”

“While the initial program did have some full-time employee conversion, I never thought we’d be recruiting this much,” Chiappetta said.

But ultimately, Chiappetta said, the apprenticeship program has helped Accenture overcome a longstanding problem: high turnover in certain jobs, especially entry-level ones. After running the pilot for several years, Chiappetta had a hunch that the program they’d designed to benefit the community could benefit the company at the same time.

After expanding the program into a year-round, full time program aligned with Department of Labor standards for apprenticeships, he managed to build a direct job pipeline from City Colleges of Chicago into Accenture’s IT Department.

“Ultimately, we created a new job profile for program participants that created opportunities while also limiting turnover,” he said. In 2022, he expects 500-600 apprentices to become full-time hires nationwide.

Tip 2: Partnering with local schools and youth organizations helps access valuable expertise

Another lesson we heard from both Brown and Chiappetta is the benefit of partnering with local schools or organizations that are already connected to young people.

“We’re not naïve enough to think we could do all this on our own,” said Brown. “And so we work with external youth organizations that do good work in our communities.”

Brown said Turner has worked with several career readiness organizations over the years. At Accenture, the apprenticeship program is made possible through partnerships with dozens of organizations, including Chicago City Colleges, i.c.stars, YearUp, Code Platoon, and Genesys Works.

Chiappetta said partnering with Chicago City Colleges in recent years has helped transformed Accenture’s local workforce to include employees who live in each of Chicago’s zip codes. By the end of 2021, Accenture will have hired 160 apprentices through the partnership. Because employees hired through the apprenticeship program are much more likely to live in the South or West side of the city at the time of hiring, the program has helped the diversify the company’s workforce.

“To choose a partner, we review their curriculum or programming and make sure it ticks boxes of what we need,” Chiappetti said. “From there, we’re recruiting the same way we would from any other source: looking for applicants with an aptitude to learn and a willingness to jump in and try new things, with the understanding we’ll provide a boost of training, mentoring, and coaching.”

Tip 3: A program doesn’t need to be perfect to make impact

As final advice to other companies considering how to start a youth employment or apprenticeship program, both Brown and Chiappetta said employers should start small—and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

“Don’t spend too much time in the planning phase,” Brown said. “And don’t look for it to be a huge, big splash. You can get lost and overwhelmed in planning to the point that you’re paralyzed and don’t get started. But even if you launch with one participant, it’s one more than you had and that’s great. Remember, you can design what success looks like for you. Your measure of success is specific to your own organization.”

Chiappetta encouraged companies to look at successful programs at other companies and follow their lead.

“Use examples you see to create a small pilot—then give it a try.” Ultimately, he said, any effort you put in will pay off.

“Your program will be good for your business, but even better for the community. Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. What we’ve developed helps to level that opportunity for everyone in every zip code. There aren’t too many corporate and community win-wins, but this is one that ticks every box.”

The Chicago Fed’s commitment to inclusive economic recovery

As one of twelve member banks in the Federal Reserve System, the Chicago Fed is committed to supporting any efforts that further the Federal Reserve’s maximum employment mandate. Given the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on our most vulnerable populations, we know that a full recovery can’t happen without addressing their specific needs.

If you’re an employer in the region interested in learning more about the benefits of employment interventions for youth, please get in touch.

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