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Report: ‘Opportunity Youth’ Could Be New Source of Job Candidates

Employers struggling to fill open positions often overlook a nontraditional source of employees: youth ages 16 to 24 who are disconnected from school and work.

This cohort—called “opportunity youth”—was made up of nearly 4.7 million people in 2021. Given that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded more than 8.7 million job openings in February 2024, opportunity youth represent a large store of untapped potential, according to a report that SHRM, the SHRM Foundation and the Center for Racial Equity released April 16.

“The benefits of hiring opportunity youth extend beyond doing social good,” the researchers noted in the report, From Social Good to Strategic Talent Advantage: The Business Case for Hiring Opportunity Youth. “They also include helping organizations meet their talent needs.”

These young people, who are disproportionately people of color, often face barriers to employment such as age and racial biases as well as negative misconceptions about their reliability, level of work experience, skills and knowledge. Some may have other challenges, such as possessing a juvenile criminal record or having a parent incarcerated during their childhood.

Savvy employers that partner with programs focused on preparing youth for workforce readiness, though, can find the talent they’re looking for in these young people, according to the report.

Researchers looked at the challenges employers face in recruiting and working with this group of potential employees. HR’s top five personal concerns—level of maturity in the workplace, reliability, skills and knowledge levels, transportation to and from work, and amount of relevant work experience —were similar to those they might have when hiring any young worker, researchers noted.

These workers perform just as well as or better than other employees, according to 77 percent of HR professionals who have experience working with opportunity youth.

The report is based on a November survey of 1,488 U.S.-based HR professionals and 1,433 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older. Among the latter group, 892 U.S. workers who were employed full time or part time were asked a subset of questions.

The report breaks down the following challenges for employers and offers strategies to overcome obstacles to hiring members of this population.

Challenges and Solutions

  • Managers are not trained to supervise opportunity youth employees, according to 75 percent of HR professionals.
  • Recommendation: Implement training programs by partnering with local community organizations that have experience working with opportunity youth. Training can provide organizations with the tools and resources they need to cultivate a successful work environment. These partnerships ensure that managers and leaders do not have to navigate organizational barriers alone.

[SHRM Foundation’s Skilled Credentials Toolkit]

  •  Opportunity youth lack the necessary skill sets, according to 43 percent of HR professionals.
  • Recommendation: Researchers suggested considering candidates who have earned relevant skilled credentials.

Most of the HR professionals who were surveyed said that if these young people held a skilled credential related to the organization’s work, it would help mitigate some or most of their concerns regarding knowledge and skill levels (90 percent), amount of relevant work experience (87 percent), and the amount of on-the-job training needed (82 percent).

  • Recruiting this population is not a priority, according to 34 percent of HR professionals.
  • Recommendation: Make a stronger business case for the benefits of hiring opportunity youth to company leaders by aligning these initiatives with the company’s strategic goals. HR professionals said the following are five factors that have or would motivate their organization to invest in a formal program.


  • It is unclear how to recruit candidates from this population, according to 24 percent of HR professionals.
  • Recommendation: Consider offering internships, attending job fairs, partnering with advocacy groups or nonprofits, evaluating and modifying job postings to make them more inclusive for this population, and training managers to better evaluate opportunity youth as job candidates.

    Among organizations that partner with advocacy or community-based organizations to recruit and employ opportunity youth, 96 percent reported positive results, 54 percent said these partnerships have been effective or very effective in helping them access and work with members of this talent pool, and 42 percent said the partnerships were slightly effective in doing so.



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