On Monday, July 13, seventeen of the nation's largest corporate giants have joined Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, in launching a partnership committed to connecting 100,000 of our nation's young people to career opportunities by 2018. To address the plight of disconnected young adults, the coalition has launched the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative.

The initiative embodies a 2-pronged approach, aiming to offer young people internships, apprenticeships, and part- and full-time employment, while also incentivizing employee retention by providing access to continued education or training in technical skills and credentials via a network of local community nonprofits and youth organizations, lead by the The Aspen Institute's Forum for Community Solutions' Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund.

The Big Players

With Starbucks at the helm, other founding partners for the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative include: Alaska Airlines, Cintas, CVS Health, Hilton Worldwide, HMSHost, JCPenney, JPMorgan Chase, Lyft, Macy's, Microsoft, Porch.com, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Taco Bell, Target, Walgreens and Walmart. The Initiative recognizes that as 5.6 million young americans, ages 16 to 24 years of age, are currently unemployed and out of school, 3.5 million jobs not requiring a four-year degree remain unfilled in the U.S.1 The goal of 100,000 Opportunities is to create the nation's largest employer-led private sector coalition focused on filling these "middle skilled' jobs with opportunity youth and to also connect them with the resources they need to advance their careers.

Finding a New Stream of Talent

The coalition of partners not only see this as a major opportunity to address income inequality and leveling the playing field, but as a major economic opportunity for all businesses involved. "We're living at a time when for-profit public companies must redefine their responsibilities to the communities they serve and to their employees," said Starbucks chief executive, Howard Schultz. This model of workforce development creates a new pathway between young, motivated and ready-to-work individuals, and businesses seeking candidates but who don't know how to effectively recruit or retain this untapped, unrealized source of talent.

Kicking Off the New Initiative

100,000 Opportunities Initiative is currently seeking additional corporate partners before the big launch on August 13th. The kick-off community event will be hosted in Chicago will serve as a signature Opportunity Fair and Youth Forum. The campaign launch will be held in the first of several cities the Initiative will work closely with community-based efforts to empower local youth. At the kickoff event, the coalition expects to make immediate impact on the community by offering career training to the 2,000 expected youth attendees and making at least 200 on-the-spot job offers.

Community Connection

Since work experience such as summer jobs, internships and apprenticeships are crucial career preparation for teens, the Initiative is engaging an already existing national network of community based organizations to provide at-risk youth the skills and guidance they need for their futures. The Aspen Institute's Forum for Community Solutions will act as an intermediary and will conduct local leadership for the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, connecting teens to its national Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF). The Initiative is backed by the likes of the Rockefeller and MacArthur Foundations, along with several other influential foundations. The OYIF will work to provide teens the resources to connect with community-based organizations for career mentorship, higher education preparation, and connections to career opportunities.

A Step in the Right Direction

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative should be celebrated as a model for how corporations can partner with nonprofits and community organizations to provide much-needed assistance in supporting youth through workforce development. That said, 100,000 teens is merely a drop in the bucket of the vast amount of disengaged youth in our nation. Federal data reports that in June of 2015, overall teenage unemployment was at 18.1%, while African American teenage unemployment was at 31.5%.2 Additionally, 22% of blacks, 20% of Native Americans, 16% of Latinos, 11% of whites and 8% of Asian Americans fall into the category of disconnected youth, according to a study published last month by the policy group Social Science Research Council.3 So not only is this a poverty and education issue, but an inequality issue as well.

A Call to Action

With more than 60% of American's without a college degree,4 it's imperative that businesses, foundations, academia, and government come together to create solutions to connect young people who remain adrift with jobs and career guidance in the meantime. "Taco Bell is a workplace where today's driven youth can flourish. We empower our team members with practical skills that set them up for success on the job and beyond, and provide resources and encouragement to stay in school and earn a degree so they can follow their passion," said Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell Corp., and partner of the initiative. This is the type of lens employers will have to embrace moving forward if the private sector wants to ensure a steady flow of middle-class workers, and if we, as a society, wish to move forward with exploring alternative solutions to tackle income inequality and discrimination in the workplace.

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Resources: Photo Credit (1) Top U.S.-Based Companies Launch the "100,000 Opportunities Initiative" to Create Pathways to Economic Opportunity for Young Americans (2) Starbucks, Taco Bell, others form youth employment coalition (3) Starbucks-led coalition to hiring 100,000 disconnected youth (4) Starbucks and Other Corporations to Announce Plan to Curb Unemployment of Young People