How Positive Youth Development Approaches Can Inform Your Business Choices

Whatever the future of work may be, there’s one thing we know for sure: young people today will be doing most of it.

The U.S. is currently going through one of the most profound demographic shifts in its history, with over 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age each day. 73 million are expected to retire by 2030. Meanwhile, the generations now entering the workforce, Generation Z and Generation Alpha, are the most diverse in U.S. history. According to Pew, 48 percent of Gen Z are people of color, including 25 percent who are Hispanic, 14 percent who are Black, and 29 percent who are either foreign-born or born of immigrant parents. Gen Alpha is the first majority-minority age cohort in U.S. history.

If you’re a business owner or leader, and you want to set your organization up for success over the long haul, how should you be thinking about these changes? Your organization’s current leadership is probably considerably older and less diverse. Meanwhile, the U.S. labor market remains tighter than it has been for generations, and experts believe it will remain so for the foreseeable future. This has been a major stressor for companies, many of whom still struggle to fill open positions, which in turn can take a toll on productivity and customer service.

Companies that want to succeed in this labor market need to rethink their recruitment and retention strategies, as well as their succession plan. Employers are used to thinking about professional development for their employees. But given this generational shift, employers may also want to start learning more about youth development. And in this arena, the business community may have something to learn from social services.

An approach that has been increasingly embraced by social service agencies is positive youth development (PYD), a science-based set of practices for working and interacting with young people. Essentially, positive youth development is an intentional, prosocial approach that draws on young people’s strengths by giving opportunities, building positive relationships, and supporting youth to develop leadership skills. Positive youth development is rooted in decades of research on brain development and has been applied in multiple contexts including international development, sexual and reproductive health programming, and workforce development.

In 2018, as part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Generation Work™ initiative, Child Trends created a tool called PILOT. It provides useful guidance on ways that service providers can use positive youth development practices to help young people thrive. Generation Work supports partnerships in eight communities that are working with employers to identify practices that address labor market disparities and improve hiring, retention, and promotion of young adults of color.

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