Work force development requires youthful approach

Joanna Stortz
Joanna Stortz

Our economic future depends on our ability to better prepare young adults ages 18 to 24 for the work force. Helping them envision and then realize a successful life after school is critical.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.8 million young adults were counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work in July — a jobless rate of 12.2 percent. The labor force participation rate for young adults — the proportion of the civilian noninstitutional population that’s working or looking and available for work — was 60 percent.

How can we as a community help prepare our young adults? It all starts with education and providing opportunities to spur interest at an early age. Career fairs showcase what businesses offer, but more apprenticeships and internships are needed. These experiences help young adults gain job experience before they’ve finished high school.

Growing our talent, what a great idea. In a small community where a large portion of our skilled work force leaves for the Front Range, we need to think about how to train and retain talent. School systems play a large role in developing young adults. Businesses, education systems, local government agencies and families must work together to give young adults the support they need, which in return will develop our skilled labor force. Working together, we can achieve the best possible outcome.

Young adults complain they can’t get a job because they lack experience. But they can’t gain experience if no one is willing to hire them.

“What we see is that it is hard for young adults to find employment outside of retail and fast food. And it’s even more so with the current competitive entry level job market,” said Garrett Morrison, supervisor of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act youth program in Grand Junction.

The WIOA program offers assistance for young adults, Morrison said. “We are in the beginning stages of creating a campaign to get 60 young adults enrolled and placed in paid internships by the end of February 2016. We are looking for local businesses willing to provide mentoring and experience to these young adults. The internships are a chance for businesses to develop a candidate into a successful employee in the business world and enhance the economic vitality of the community at no cost to them — developing tomorrow’s work force today.”

So, what does all of this mean for employers? One of the largest problems facing most employers is employee retention.

“Our young adult employees create a unique opportunity for employers to hone skills in retaining employees,” said Tim Brown, a youth employment specialist with the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “They know the cutting edge information on technology and the social network and can impart that knowledge to adult co-workers, supervisors and ownership.” Youth can bring culture to a business while keeping a finger on the pulse of society.

To accomplish this, our community must collaborate, focusing on the local economy and labor market needs. Only through collaboration can we build strategic partnerships with local business, education systems and government agency programs, which are all focused on meeting the specific skill development needs of our local work force.

Let’s invest in the future of our community by creating a strong, skilled work force starting today.