Research Highlights

How sectoral initiatives can help opportunity youth find careers

It is estimated that about 6.7 million individuals in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, not employed, not in school, and have not earned a postsecondary credential. These individuals are referred to as opportunity youth (OY). It is important for the well-being of the OY to facilitate their entry into sustainable careers, and it is important for the U.S. economy as a whole to engage their productivity. Sectoral initiatives may play a role.

Sectoral initiatives, or clusters, are regionally-based employer collaboratives operating either horizontally or vertically in the same industrial sector(s) in order to exploit productivity gains that come with firm density. Seeing opportunities in these initiatives, workforce development entities have formed partnerships with firms in clusters in order to facilitate the training and placement of customers, including OY. From a workforce development perspective, sectoral initiatives narrow the types of occupations trainees can focus on, and they are a convenient venue from which to derive employer input into training delivery and development.

In an article appearing in the newsletter, Employment Research, and in a policy paper, Institute vice president Kevin Hollenbeck describes efforts by workforce development entities to team up with firms in clusters in an effort to target OY for training services. He also describes the types of work-based earn-and-learn programs, such as apprenticeships, that have been shown to open up career paths for these at-risk youth, and the importance of an intermediary organization for bringing stakeholders together.

As Hollenbeck points out, there is no “silver bullet” that solves all the employment-related issues for OY, and most research finds youth programs are hard to ramp up to scale. Yet successful programs do exist, and these programs not only provide hope but also practical lessons for workforce developers as they pursue programs to help OY obtain a foothold in the labor market.

Hollenbeck, Kevin. 2015. "Sectoral Initiatives and Opportunity Youth." Employment Research 22(2):1-3.

Hollenbeck, Kevin. 2014. "The Role of Sectoral Initiatives in Solving the Employment Problems of Opportunity Youth." Policy Paper No. 2015-018. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.