Congress Steps Up for ‘Opportunity Youth’

Reps. Bobby Scott (Va.-03) and Virginia Foxx (N.C.-05) hosted a bipartisan panel discussion with business leaders, advocates and youth on the returns of investing in hiring opportunity youth, a term for young people who face personal barriers.

The conversation sprouted employer-led solutions to youth unemployment on Tuesday, July 18, with the emphasis on nearly 5 million young people ages 16 to 24 currently out of school and work.

“Increased employer investment in opportunity youth is a win-win proposition for youth and businesses,” Scott said. “Businesses play a crucial role in providing youth with the employment opportunities and support that can set them on a path towards success. Opportunity youth, who are diverse, creative, and energized, are a high-value asset for employers that wish to improve retention, spur innovation and fill entry-level positions.”

Many of these young people face obstacles such as involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice system, coming from low-opportunity communities and substantial barriers to employment. But Scott and Foxx said despite these issues, those same young people can add great social and economic value to communities and the economy.

“Discussions — such as the ones we have today — are important to help build a strong workforce and close the skills gap that currently exists in our country,” Foxx said. “Members of Congress often emphasize the need for greater conversations between the public and private sector when it comes to addressing workforce development, and it is good that we are practicing what we preach. The committee has already taken strong actions to strengthen our nation’s workforce, especially for young people, but our commitment does not end when the laws are passed.

“We will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to build a stronger workforce for all hardworking Americans,” he said.

Monique Rizer, executive director of Opportunity Nation, said that for businesses leaders, investing in opportunity youth is more than just social responsibility — it’s an investment in their next workforce.

“Youth connection is one of the most powerful indicators of a community’s level of opportunity,” Rizer said. “Opportunity youth represent tremendous potential and talent for our communities, economy, and society. While these young people need opportunities to reconnect with education and employment, employers are increasingly seeking workers with a specific set of skills to meet the demands of a changing economy. Opportunity youth are people with untapped talent we can’t afford to lose.”

Taj Jackson, alumnus of Year Up and former Opportunity Youth, believes that improving employment outcomes for the youth and helping employers find good workers are complementary goals.

“Unfortunately, millions of young adults across the U.S. lack access to higher education and career readiness opportunities and programs such as Year Up,” he said. “We can no longer afford to overlook the economic value of opportunity youth. I’m excited to explore ways to improve this situation with leaders from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, employers and other advocates in today’s bipartisan panel discussion.”

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Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s millennial publication. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, she attended Howard University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. A proud southern girl, her lineage can be traced to the Gullah people inhabiting the low-country of South Carolina. The history of the Gullah people and the Geechee Dialect can be found on the top floor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In her spare time she enjoys watching either college football or the Food Channel and experimenting with make-up. When she’s not writing professionally she can be found blogging at E-mail: Social Media Handles: Twitter: @dreamersexpress, Instagram: @Sarafinasaid, Snapchat: @Sarafinasaid

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