NOTE: This article originally appeared on IndyStar.com on August 22nd, 2018.
In Central Indiana alone, an estimated 30,000 young people ages 16-24 are not engaged in the educational system and are not employed. EmployIndy – Marion County’s workforce development board – serves residents by guiding investments to develop the local workforce, and sees these young adults as an opportunity to strengthen the city.
EmployIndy President & CEO Angela Carr Klitzsch offers a clear differentiation between “opportunity youth” and the more common, negative term “at-risk youth.” Essentially, at-risk youth might be in danger of dropping out of school, while opportunity youth are not engaged in education and are also not in the workforce. In short, according to Carr Klitzsch, “They do not engage in the traditional education-employment activities we see as necessary to achieve self-sufficiency.”
More than 65% of jobs in the Indianapolis region require some type of post-secondary certification or degree, Carr Klitzsch adds, and EmployIndy is trying to help young job seekers find a path to obtaining these types of credentials.
“We have a lot of preventative strategies to try to mitigate and stop young people falling out of the education system,” Carr Klitzsch says, “but then we’re also employing a lot of intervention strategies as well to try to re-engage that population to finish their education if that’s necessary, but also pursue additional post-secondary opportunities.”
Rev. Rodney T. Francis, Senior Director of Opportunity Youth Services at EmployIndy, said that the organization’s priority is often to convince youth in this demographic to continue their education.
“It starts with completing high school or an equivalency – and beyond that can be another type of training or program that leads to an industry-verified certificate, associate’s degree, or perhaps even a bachelor’s degree,” says Francis. “We partner with organizations like Ivy Tech and other adult education providers around the city that can facilitate various education and skills attainment that lead to a better job.”
“For us the premise is getting them back in school so they can connect with a sustainable career. Data has shown if they have the education they’re more likely to continue on to a career track.”
Rodney Francis, Sr. Director of Opportunity Youth Initiatives
To ensure coordinated, quality efforts around the city, EmployIndy is currently working to improve the Youth Employment System by providing guidance and financial investment to bolster existing services. Supported organizations provide job training and career services to young people, focusing their efforts on different neighborhoods, strategies, or segments of the population.
Locating and attracting this elusive group to the services that could benefit them is not always easy. EmployIndy is currently researching and piloting ways to engage opportunity youth, and finding success with a concept called the “Pivot Re-engagement Center,” a partnership on the Far Eastside. At the Finish Line Boys & Girls Club on Post Road, open gym basketball and food is offered to young adults as a “hook” to attract potential participants – and has already seen over 400 young men come into its doors in less than three months.
Through steady interaction and trust-building with on-site staff, the goal is to identify those who are both in need and ready to take a step toward a career. After some evaluation, participants are then connected to education, training, and/or other support services that can help lead to employment. Partnerships between EmployIndy, Finish Line Boys & Girls Club, WorkOne Indy, Community Alliance of the Far Eastside, and Walker Career Center make the path possible. Plans are to replicate the concept in all five EmployIndy high-need target areas and with other “hooks” pending successful evaluation of this pilot program.
These efforts stem from the belief that aiding young people helps the City of Indianapolis in its quest to promote inclusive growth. Though national headlines have heralded the city as the next information technology hot spot and an ideal locale for relocating businesses from other states or cities, there’s more to the story.
“If you start peeling back the layers, you almost have a tale of two cities,” Carr Klitzsch said. “While we have a lot of national accolades and things we can be proud of as a city that we can lean into, there is a significant portion of our population who is being left behind in this economic opportunity.”
It takes a deliberate effort to understand how an organization can play an active role in being a part of inclusive growth. EmployIndy’s Business Solutions team works with employers around the city to help them understand the realities of the labor market and to ensure that there is a return on investment in cultivating local talent.
Carr Klitzsch added, “I think a lot of the data would show we’ve hit a tipping point – for businesses to be successful, employers need to be intentional about really lifting up the population that right now, is not participating. Engaging as a member of EmployIndy’s network is a great first step.”