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Recruiting ‘opportunity youth’ offers HR the chance to fill skills gaps

This often untapped talent pool may offer HR the opportunity to fill open positions with eager and driven young talent.

Struggling to recruit skilled employees from diverse backgrounds? Consider “opportunity youth.”

Opportunity youth are young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who do not attend school or work, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Some have spent time in foster care, have a criminal record or a parent in jail, or have experienced other challenges that have created roadblocks in their education and career. There are about 5 million opportunity youth in the US, according to the American Institutes for Research.

Why recruit opportunity youth? Social good aside, recruiting from this particular talent pool can help organizations close talent gaps and build a more diverse workforce, according to SHRM, and opportunity youth often possess a unique set of skills that can make them valuable members of the workforce.

“Opportunity youth introduces organizations to a large pool of workers who are eager to learn,” Wendi Safstrom, SHRM Foundation president, told HR Brew. “They’re motivated to grow and are bringing all kinds of different and often fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the workplace every single day.”

“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,” an unnamed HR professional told SHRM of the opportunity youth hired at their organization. “They see life as an infinite opportunity, and they contribute to our company culture and the future of our business.”

Nearly eight in 10 (77%) of the 1,488 US-based HR professionals surveyed by SHRM in November 2023 said their opportunity youth employees performed “as well or better” in comparison to their other employees. Additionally, just 55% of respondents actively recruiting opportunity youth said they’re struggling to fill open positions, while 71% of those not actively recruiting from this pool reported the same.

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