Creating Meaningful Career Pathways for Young People 

Challenge and Context: Meaningful Career Pathways Lead to Economic Security for Young People

Access to employment opportunities that lead to meaningful careers can influence a young person’s future trajectory, positively affecting their overall economic well-being, the potential for financial freedom, mental, physical and emotional health, and strength of relationships. To obtain meaningful work, young people need both education and skills training, as well as comprehensive support throughout their journey.

Adolescence is a time when young people thrive when they can access varied supports that free their ability to explore the world around them. By creating an environment where young people can take positive risks and discover who they are and what they want for the future, they can begin to map out a path and transition to adulthood with greater clarity and purpose.

But factors outside of a young person’s control can make connection to quality work and educational opportunities difficult to maintain. Where a person lives and other structural factors often dictate the way systems (such as workforce systems, educational systems, and justice systems) impact youth., In cases where communities have experienced exploitation and underinvestment, these systems may not serve youth well, stalling young people in states of disconnection from education and employment before their journeys can fully begin.

Based on the 2020 report published by Measure of America, the national share of young people ages 16–24 who are neither working nor in school—known as Opportunity Youth—is 11.2%. In New Orleans, it is as high as 22.9%, and in Los Angeles it’s as high as 23%. The pandemic has deepened existing inequalities, raising the disconnection rate — defined as disconnection from education or employment — in the United States and around the world. After falling for a decade in the United States, disconnection rates spiked during the pandemic and have since leveled off, though them remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

In communities that have experienced systemic underinvestment, young people often find themselves in lower-wage jobs, and have less employment stability and fewer advancement opportunities in their work. A lack of access to the necessary supports – such as reliable and efficient public transportation and accessible and affordable childcare– often prohibits a young person’s efforts in obtaining employment leading to economic security.

Young parents, especially young women, often face the added challenge of balancing intense caretaking duties and employment, while being unable to access needed supports such as childcare.

In addition, too often Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), women, and LGBTQ+ persons experience barriers to achieving economic and emotional well-being at far greater rates than their counterparts. These systemic barriers contribute to the high rates of youth disconnection within these communities, perpetuating unjust systems and pushing the dream of economic freedom that much further out of reach. 

What We Do: Providing Tools to Fulfill Economic and Personal Promise for Young People, Ages 16-24

We engage youth in developing solutions that work for them. Our grantees and partners work to remove systemic barriers and help young people achieve economic and personal success in industries like healthcare and hospitality. 

Young people benefit enormously from access to quality jobs and careers with meaningful pathways. The California Future of Work Commission defines quality jobs as those that “provide a living wage, stable and predictable pay, control over scheduling, access to benefits, a safe and dignified work environment, and opportunities for training and career advancement.” 

Our Current Focus

  • Deepen investments in our priority geographies to create strong systems that support youth into employment opportunities 
  • Engage and incentive the private sector in building inclusive workplaces that create more opportunities for youth employment 
  • Systemically strengthen the voice of young people to change narratives around youth, create policies that hold youth outcomes at the center, and advocate on their own behalf 
  • Replicate solutions in the U.S. and internationally

Our work supports Opportunity Youth and helps set them up for success, as they define it. We actively seek the lived experience of young people for input into initiative design and strategy, and, at the same time, seek employer partners in industries with good jobs and future growth potential. We believe this two-pronged approach helps young people contribute to their communities while maintaining and building their dignity, agency and sense of self. In turn, industries benefit from a sustainable and effective workforce comprised of capable and promising individuals with unique skills based on their lived experiences.  

We focus our efforts in the cities of New Orleans and Los Angeles in the U.S., Mexico City in Mexico, and Mombasa in Kenya. 

The following elements guide our work:

  • Expand best-in-class skills and workforce training that includes comprehensive wrap-around supports and prioritizes job placement at completion. 
  • Ensure that our grantmaking and partners prioritize populations facing the greatest barriers to workforce success and economic mobility. 
  • Increase awareness and understanding of the positive impact that comprehensive supports (like childcare) have on youth, employers and communities. 
  • Build understanding of the vast contributions young adults can make with the right opportunities. Incentivize employers to improve their hiring practices and design programs and training to optimize young people’s success.  
  • Engage policymakers and strengthen national and international coalitions. 
  • Invest in the capacity of young people to advocate for their own needs. 
  • Create positive narratives about youth, especially young people of color, to counteract the current prevalent negative narrative 
  • Provide capacity building and technical assistance support to community-based organizations supporting youth employment to create a strong, stable, and sustainable field   
  • Collect and share data to help policymakers and funders make more informed decisions when it comes to the lives of Opportunity Youth. 

The Impact of the Work: A World Where Young People Thrive 

Fueled by the promise and limitless potential that every young person holds, the Opportunity Youth Initiative works alongside youth, the communities in which they live, and other partners to transform inequitable systems, enabling young people to harness the power of their talents and abilities in order to fulfill their dreams and create a better future for themselves, their communities, and the world. 

Learn More

Meet the Opportunity Youth Team