At the National Fund, we believe that incorporating the voices of workers is a critical part of equitable and inclusive worker success strategies. We share this value with the Annie E. Casey Foundation which has identified the inclusion of young people’s voices in these strategies as a core marker of progress for its Generation Work™ initiative.
Generation Work aims to connect more of America’s young adults — especially young people of color from low-income families — with meaningful employment by changing the way public and private systems prepare and support them in jobs. In phase two of this initiative, the Casey Foundation and the National Fund are working with partners in eight communities to engage employers to develop and implement equitable employment practices that incorporate input from those who would be most impacted by them — young workers of color.
Engaging young workers to help develop equitable employment practices is not an easy task. But in the last year, the Generation Work partnerships have learned valuable lessons that have helped them engage young workers in a meaningful and effective way.
In Birmingham, AL, the Generation Work partners took an innovative and thoughtful approach by creating a young adult workforce subcommittee led by the Birmingham Tech Council. The council has over 50 members, and it includes roughly 30 employer partners, training providers, and young tech talent. Its mission is to engage young people in a respectful and meaningful way — not just every so often through extractive methods like occasional surveys. Their work intentionally focuses on not only engaging people of color but also lifting their voices to drive change.
The young adult subcommittee — one of three subcommittees that help shape the council’s strategy — offers a chance for young adults to have a seat at the table to meaningfully express their thoughts and collaborate with employers and training providers. Ensuring worker participation in the group requires intentionality and dedicated staff. The council has implemented several recruitment and retention strategies aimed at attracting and retaining young workers’ voices in their efforts.
- Compensation: Young workers receive up to $450 for participating in the committee. Acknowledging the value of their time and knowledge is an important recruitment tool.
- Resume-building: Participating in the committee gives young workers the opportunity to gain experience that they can highlight in their resumes. Because many of these workers are just starting their careers, an opportunity to build their resume is an incentive to join.
- Individual outreach: Connecting one-on-one with committee members allows for all voices to be heard. If a participant does not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in a bigger group, they can more comfortably share through individual outreach. Since these individual check-ins were implemented, participation has increased significantly.
- Breakout sessions: Providing opportunities for engagement in small groups has helped young workers gain the confidence to share their thoughts with employers and training providers when the entire tech committee meets.
Birmingham Tech Council’s young adult subcommittee has helped expand the perspectives of training providers and employers. By amplifying the voices of those entering the tech industry, the subcommittee is helping shape solutions that will support the growth of the tech industry in Birmingham while enhancing the lives of young adults of color.
Engaging youth in creating solutions for the challenges they face is important. The strategies implemented by the Birmingham team are a great blueprint for other workforce development practitioners looking to integrate the voices of young people into their projects. Even though the right engagement will look different in each community, the Birmingham Tech Council has made it a priority to take engagement beyond the one-time snapshot of surveys or focus groups. Their approach demonstrates that making worker voice a cornerstone of their strategy is not only the key to a successful initiative but also a powerful tool to engage employers in practice changes.