Creating Meaningful Career Pathways for Young People 

Challenge and Context: Value of Meaningful Career Pathways 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. Young people who receive high-quality education, skills training and supports for career exploration are more stable and confident and have a higher chance of finding and retaining meaningful work.

Adolescence is a time when young people need the 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, young people can begin to map out a path for their future and transition to adulthood.

But factors outside of a young person’s control make connection to quality educational and work opportunities difficult to maintain. Where a person lives often dictates the strength of systems designed to propel them to success, and in cases where communities have been historically exploited or underinvested, these systems are weak, hold youth back and create disconnection.

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 report speculates that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in a dramatic increase in youth disconnection rates, estimating that the number of Opportunity Youth could jump to 25 percent nationally.

In underinvested communities, young people experience lower-wage jobs, less employment stability and fewer advancement opportunities. A lack of access to public transportation is another factor that limits career pathways. And without access to affordable childcare, young parents experience limited options for meaningful employment. 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 perpetuation of high rates of youth disconnection within these communities, creating an uneven playing field  — pushing the dream of economic mobility 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

  • Engage opportunity youth and employers
  • Expand geographic reach
  • 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 New Orleans and Los Angeles, and we are analyzing Mexico City and Mombasa to see how our support can make a meaningful difference. 

The following elements guide our work:

  • 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.
  • Increase awareness and understanding of the positive impact that comprehensive supports (like childcare) have on youth, employers and communities.
  • Open the aperture of opportunity by partnering with large employers.
  • Expand skills building and workforce training opportunities.
  • Build understanding of the vast contributions young adults can make with the right opportunities. 
  • Ensure our grants and partners’ work creates greater equity for those historically excluded. 
  • Invest in the capacity of young people to advocate for their own needs.
  • 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 

By fully opening the door to meaningful careers and transforming how the public and employers think about disconnected young adults, we can make shifts in systems to be more equitable, enabling young adults to transition into adulthood, contribute to their communities and society, feel joy, and thrive fully.

Learn More

Meet the Opportunity Youth Team