Business Forum: Employers need to engage our youth

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We know the best way to learn to work is by working. However, there is a silent crisis emerging in our region. While our economy continues to strengthen with positive movement in the housing and stock markets, little attention is being given to the decline in meaningful professional experience for our children.

Quite frankly, our youth are quietly missing out on a key part of their young professional lives.

Across Allegheny County, there are currently 160,000 workers between the ages of 55-65 and only 80,000 youth between the ages of 15-19. This would appear, at first glance, to offer a wonderful opportunity for the young adults of our region to graduate from high school, postsecondary education or trade school with a world of options for employment. As the older workforce retires, younger workers will see more career opportunities across all major industry sectors, right here in our backyard.

However, lurking just beneath the surface is a trend to which we should pay closer attention. During the last decade, despite its critical importance to future success, youth employment in Allegheny County has decreased by more than 50 percent and the number of summer jobs by 63 percent. This alarming trend is undermining one of the key stages in youth development -- workplace learning.

Many of us can remember our first work experiences.

These opportunities showed us what it meant to work, what it meant to be truly responsible and held accountable, what it meant to earn a paycheck. For a growing cohort of our youth, these opportunities are quickly eroding, making the ability to compete in our local job market extremely difficult.

First jobs, even relatively low-skill ones, can teach valuable competencies and behaviors. Punctuality, reliability, working with co-workers and customers, effective communication skills, problem-solving techniques and managing priorities are examples of the many skills learned on the job. Youth will need these and many more to be successful in the current marketplace.

First jobs aid career exploration and improve engagement in learning. The opportunities to discover your driving force all take place while "getting your hands dirty" on the job. Perhaps even more important is the opportunity to discover what you truly don't want to do.

As employers, we can open our doors to professional internships for high school-aged youth. As a community, we can support programs that provide an extra push to those who need a helping hand. As an individual, you can take a young adult under your wing and help them navigate the complexities of what it means to be a professional.

Employers looking to attract the next generation of well-prepared and committed professionals need to engage our region's youth now.

Offer real-world work experiences, help our children understand what opportunities lay ahead and continue to promote lifelong learning and professional development. Our children's economic prosperity and our region's bright future depends on your engagement and your commitment to making sure our young adults are well prepared to enter the workforce.


Stefani Pashman is the CEO of Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (3RWIB).


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