By JaMeko Williams, Director of Career Pathways
An inclusive workplace should be the standard all businesses and organizations aim for. Environments that value the voices, views, talents, and unique characteristics of all employees and stakeholders are generally more desirable places to work and often outperform their competitors.
Inclusive policies and practices in most cases focus on race and gender, but a critical factor sometimes overlooked in the workplace is age – more specifically, how friendly and fitting the culture is for youth.
Wondering why it’s important to prioritize youth in an overwhelmingly adult-led environment? The answer is pretty simple: young workers (age 16-24) are the future of our workforce and economy, and the population of work-ready youth is substantial.
Given the changing dynamics of the workforce in this rapidly advancing digital age, businesses and organizations that are intentional about embracing the unique perspectives, values, skills, and expectations of young workers have a distinct advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent.
Young people (under the age of 30) make up over half of today’s global population, with some projections being as high as 75% by 2030. A 2021 report estimated the youth labor force (16-24-year-olds working or looking for work) to be over 22 million in the U.S. That said, having a youth-friendly workplace would seem to be a no-brainer. Yet, youth employment rates are considerably low compared to historical standards, and the potential negative effects of this trend could also be a major motivator for employers to become more youth-friendly.
The requirement for more education and training is one cause for lower employment rates. For young people who are neither in school or working – often referred to as “opportunity youth” – the personal burden and the resulting strain on the local economy can both be significant. Unemployed or underemployed youth lead to lower tax revenue, higher government spending, and reduced economic growth. On an individual level, longer-term effects on socioeconomic mobility are also more severe for young people who do not have stable jobs by their early twenties, including joblessness or permanently lower earnings, health risks, lower education levels, and a greater likelihood for criminal justice involvement.
To create and sustain a healthy society and vibrant economy, it is essential to expand access to work experiences and professional development in all sectors of the workforce for today’s youth.
While many employers may hire young workers for a variety of positions, a workplace culture that is hostile toward youth can be just as detrimental as one that denies youth completely.
Youth-hostile work spaces are characterized by:
- “Adultist” environments
- Unrealistic expectations for skill attainment
- Very little voice
- No autonomy
Youth may not have all the capabilities as seasoned adult professionals, but they have the capacity to learn. This idea is not taken to heart by enough employers, and instead, many young workers are devalued, disconnected from the rest of their team, and/or excluded from some opportunities. This affects the mentality of youth and could lead to employment instability in the future.
Youth-friendly work spaces are characterized by:
- Appropriate levels of autonomy
- Acceptance of youth voice
- Opportunities for growth and development
Here are some strategies for creating youth-friendly workspaces:
- Offering internship programs that focus on youth development
- Establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that focus on youth voice
- Providing clear pathways for job advancement
- Creating a culture where failure is used as a learning opportunity
- Allowing youth to make meaningful contributions, such as vision and strategy work
- Implementing youth-focused DEI training for all staff
The energy, creativity, and curiosity of young people can create so much upside for an employer. Like all of us, young workers thrive when they are confident, and confidence comes from knowing they are respected as equals, trusted to share opinions and ideas, and empowered to contribute to the core work of the organization.