One of California’s competitive advantages has been a skilled workforce for many growing industries. In a sea of high costs, our well-trained college graduates have stoked the growth of companies in many basic and cutting edge industries.

We can maintain that advantage only by ensuring a steady pipeline of well-trained and highly motivated young workers who can obtain the experience needed to succeed in our diverse economy.

Youth employment is at an historic low and the projected workforce skills gap is growing in many industry sectors across California over the coming decades.

The underemployment rate for recent college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree has steadily increased since 2001, while at the same time there are hundreds of thousands of positions employers are struggling to fill.  California’s unemployment rate for youth ages 16 – 19 is 21.5 percent, and ages 20 – 24 is 11.4 percent, compared with an overall unemployment rate in the state of 5.8 percent.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s recent study Making Youth Employment Work finds there are 6 million youth ages 16-24 that are out of school and out of work.

Addressing youth employment will require a focused response from educators, business leaders and government officials.  To that end, the California Chamber of Commerce and the Linked Learning Alliance announced a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) to expand opportunities for teenagers and young adults to get work experiences that can lead to college and career advancement.  By joining USCCF’s national youth employment network the Linked Learning Alliance and CalChamber will collaborate with national leaders in strengthening workforce development by focusing on employer-driven, work-based learning employment strategies for youth ages 16 to 24.

The research concludes that improving youth employment opportunities and closing the skills gap requires employers to implement strategies that meet their own business needs as well as accommodate high school and community college students. The partnership between CalChamber, the Linked Learning Alliance and USCCF reinforces the business case for hiring youth and focuses on demand-driven solutions to support businesses employing young talent.

Work-based learning includes a range of hands on learning and out-of-classroom opportunities that expose students to professional and real world work environments. These opportunities are on a continuum that includes lower investment introductory experiences, such as hearing from guest speakers, participating in job shadows, worksite tours and informational interviews, to full internships. Through these opportunities students learn what it takes to thrive in the professional world.

With support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the California organizations are exploring how technology platforms can make it easier for employers to develop or expand work-based learning opportunities for teens and young adults. One strategy being piloted is LaunchPath, an online platform that matches employers who want to offer work-based learning opportunities and students who have preparation to be productive in the workplace.

“Linked Learning is an approach that prepares students for college, career, and life, and employers are essential partners in making sure students are ready to succeed,” said Christopher Cabaldon, President, Linked Learning Alliance. “More than 1,200 pathways are aspiring to offer the Linked Learning opportunities to students in California alone.   Getting professional experiences in the real world of work is an essential component of Linked Learning. Because Linked Learning students get technical and academic training in industry-themed pathways they are prepared to contribute in the workplace during their internships.”

CalChamber and Linked Learning Alliance will also convene sessions with business leaders in California to improve partnerships with schools using the Linked Learning approach to create systems that provide meaningful work-based learning experiences for youth.