Launched in August 2015, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is creating the nation’s largest employer-led coalition focused on helping young people build skills and attain credentials while connecting them to employment. FSG’s broad range of support for the Initiative includes designing and stewarding the learning community; providing strategic oversight for the Initiative; collecting and synthesizing data that tracks the Initiative’s progress; and sharing lessons learned to promote best practices in the broader corporate sector.
This week, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative team had the pleasure of attending the Aspen Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF) Convening in Chicago. The conference brought together representatives from 23 OYIF sites to explore strategies for deepening pathways to education and employment for opportunity youth.
The statistics about opportunity youth are staggering: There are currently 5.5 million opportunity youth in America—16-24-year-olds who are out of school and not working largely due to systematic barriers to jobs and education. This is 1 in 7 young people in the U.S.
As with many social issues, there is no silver bullet or simple solution. Below are 4 quotes we heard during the conference that address HOW we must approach this work to achieve long-term, systemic change:
- We need to speak truthfully. A panelist pointed out that it’s impossible to talk about solutions for opportunity youth without recognizing the role race and equity have played and continue to play in the lives of these young people.
- Nothing for us without us. Our youth—around whom our efforts center—are some of the most powerful leaders in this work. The youth should be involved in the discussions about programs, policy, and strategy every step of the way. Instead of designing things FOR them, we should design it WITH them.
- We can’t call them opportunity youth if we don’t give them opportunities. If we truly believe that our youth are our greatest source of untapped talent, then opportunities to participate, have a voice, and lead is the only way we can prepare this next generation.
- It’s not just youth voice that’s needed, it’s adult listening. At the end of the day, we can spend countless hours empowering our youth, but if adults are not willing to listen, we will continue to fail in our efforts to break the cycle of poverty and systemic inequity.
We’re just getting started applying these lessons through the 100K Opportunities Initiative. What other lessons should we add to this list?