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Today's employers are in the midst of a talent shortage that shows little sign of abating. According to the Manpower Group's latest annual survey, thirty-eight percent of employers report having trouble filling jobs.1 The professional and business services industry and the education and health services industry each have more than one million job openings, the Department of Education reports,2 and according to The Apsen Institute there are over 3.5 million unfilled jobs in the United States that do not require a four-year degree.3 These jobs, often referred to as middle-skill jobs, make up the largest part of the labor marketing in the United States. Businesses have a vested interest in solving this problem. Here are a few ways the business community can work with local youth organizations to prepare the next generation of workers.

Help Youth Develop Academic Skills

One way businesses can prepare future workers is by helping youth develop in-demand academic skills. The DOE encourages businesses to participate in designing curriculum that emphasizes academic skills relevant to future employment. Over the past four years, the government has invested $2 billion for 700 community colleges to work with employers in designing education and training programs that prepare workers for in-demand jobs in their regional economies. Current proposals would provide businesses with tax incentives for supporting these types of programs.

Businesses can also boost student academic skills indirectly by helping youth organizations in their communities motivate students to pursue education. One way to do this is by supporting special events that expose students to career opportunities. For instance, Microsoft sponsors an annual robotics competition in which employees volunteer to mentor teams of students in building robots, with an aim of encouraging students to develop science, technology, engineering and math skills.4

Businesses can also offer  scholarships and reimbursements to offset the cost of education. For instance, Starbucks - whose workforce comprises 70 percent students - offers a College Achievement Plan.5 The plan provides scholarship funds and also reimburses out-of-pocket tuition costs and certain fees after each completed term. Employers are also starting to offer high school diploma programs for their employees. Church's Chicken's Stride for Success program gives employees the opportunity to earn their high school diploma and advance to management positions within the company. The program is currently offered at store-owned companies and is expected to expand to franchise-owned locations in the near future.

Help Youth Develop Soft Skills

Another way that businesses can help develop the next generation of workers is by partnering with youth organizations to promote the training of soft skills. In a survey conducted by American Express and Millennial Branding for Dan Schawbel's book, "Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success," nearly nine out of 10 of managers said that when evaluating employees for promotion, they consider the most important criteria to be soft skills such as the ability to prioritize work, a positive attitude and teamwork.6 However, nearly half of managers felt millennial workers have a poor work ethic in these areas.

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth advocates work-based learning experiences to close this soft skills gap.7 Such experiences can be cultivated through internships, summer jobs, youth-run business entrepreneurship programs, service projects, volunteer work and part-time jobs. These types of work experiences give youth opportunities to develop soft skills in areas such as communication, interpersonal relationships and decision-making. Meanwhile, employers benefit by getting an opportunity to see prospective employees in action without being obligated to hire them.

Moreover, skills training organizations such as Penn Foster are investing in developing soft skills training programs that employers can offer to their employees. These training programs are often aligned to the commonly defined skills that employees need to succeed at all jobs, such as those outlined in the National Network of Business and Industry Associations' Common Employability Skills.8 Soft skills taught in these programs may include dependability & reliability, teamwork, communication, professionalism, problem solving and decision making.

Help Youth Prepare to Be Good Employees

In addition to training youth in soft skills, work-based learning experiences help young workers develop other skill sets that prepare them to be good workers. To this end, the Department of Labor's American Apprenticeship Initiative recently awarded $175 million to 46 applicants who have partnered with businesses to train and hire over 34,000 new apprentices in in-demand industries such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare and IT over the next five years.9

Programs eligible for American Apprenticeship grants include pre-apprenticeship programs such as YouthBuild,10 a community-based alternative education program that provides job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24.11 Participants learn construction skills while building or restoring affordable housing for low-income or homeless families in their own neighborhoods. YouthBuild receives support from foundations associated with businesses such as American Express, AT&T and Bank of America - and it also teams up with local businesses for community projects. For example, more than 100 Prudential employees joined 50 students from Arizona YouthBuild to build green homes for low-income families in the Phoenix area.12 Businesses that support such youth programs help prepare future workers with job skills that will in turn serve the business community.

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Resources: (1) Manpower 2015 Talent Shortage Survey (2) Department of Education (3) The Aspen Institute (4) Microsoft (5) Starbucks (8) Common Employability Skills (6) Millennial Branding (7) The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (9) Department of Labor (10) Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (11) YouthBuild USA (12) YouthBuild USA