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opportunity youth at work

Opportunity Youth at Work

As organizations strive to cultivate inclusive, equitable and diverse workplaces, their quest to find talent is increasingly taking them beyond traditional talent pipelines. Amid calls for social change, one untapped talent pipeline that is gaining attention is opportunity youth. 

Recognizing that this population faces barriers to employment, SHRM Foundation is is proud to unveil our new research report, From Social Good to Strategic Talent Advantage: The Business Case for Hiring Opportunity Youth. This research was made possible through a generous grant from Walmart through the Center for Racial Equity. We are proud to work with Walmart to help employers create meaningful career opportunities for opportunity youth to drive economic mobility, advance racial equity and break cycles of incarceration.

Who are opportunity youth?

Opportunity youth are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.

The Business Case for Hiring Opportunity Youth

Engaging with opportunity youth doesn’t just alleviate talent shortages. It also introduces organizations to a large pool of workers who are eager to learn and motivated to grow and who can offer fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to tackle everyday workplace challenges. HR professionals believe that, when paired with empathetic leadership and dedicated mentorship, providing opportunities to this group of untapped talent would result in opportunity youth contributing positively to the organization in several ways.

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Opportunity youth represents nearly 4.7 million young people, or 12% of young people ages 16 to 24.

This group presents a potential solution for organizations having trouble hiring and retaining workers.

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Organizations that invest in hiring opportunity youth are less likely to be experiencing talent shortages.

Only 55% of employers that have a formal program for recruiting and hiring opportunity youth currently report difficulties filling their open positions, versus 71% of employers that don’t have any program in place.

young woman and young man working as baristas in a coffee shop making coffee

When given the chance, opportunity youth workers perform just as well as or better than other workers.

Of those who have currently or previously worked with opportunity youth, 77% of HR professionals and 69% of U.S. workers report that opportunity youth perform as well as or better than other employees.

young man smiles while working at a computer next to other young people

While nearly 7 in 10 of the organizations surveyed reported having difficulties filling their open positions, organizations that invest in hiring opportunity youth through a formal program were less likely to be experiencing staffing shortages.

One memorable experience involved a young individual who joined our organization as an opportunity youth. They were initially shy and lacked confidence but displayed a strong desire to learn and grow. Over time, with mentorship and support, they blossomed into a skilled and compassionate health care professional, making a positive impact on our team and the patients they served. This transformation highlighted the potential for growth and success when given the right opportunities and support.

HR Professional, Healthcare Industry

When given the chance, opportunity youth workers perform just as well as or better than other workers.


of HR professionals said opportunity youth perform just as well as or better than other employees.


of HR professionals reported that their experiences working with opportunity youth have been positive.

They are so technically and digitally savvy that they often see ways to improve processes and procedures we don’t see because we’ve been stuck in the status quo. They have wonderful energy, they see life as an infinite opportunity, and they contribute to our company culture and the future of our business.

HR Professional, Professional/Technical/Scientific Services Industry

Embrace the Future and Drive Your Talent Strategy

Looking for other ways to unlock more potential?

Discover endless opportunities with SHRM Foundation’s Untapped Talent.

Through our Untapped Pools of Talent Portfolio, we ensure that employers know how, when and where to find key skilled populations that provide solutions to their talent strategies for today and tomorrow.

We particularly work to support employers in accessing military-connected talent, people with disabilities, people impacted by the justice system, and opportunity youth and older workers.

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