Here’s what young people are teaching corporate America

Finding a job is tough for anyone these days. It’s especially tough for “opportunity youth,” 16- to 24-year-olds from mostly low-income backgrounds who face barriers to careers and education.

But if Starbucks and their corporate partners reach their goals, more than 100,000 opportunity youth will be well on their way to building careers by 2018.

Starbucks and 31 corporate partners including Nordstrom, Taco Bell and Chipotle teamed up for the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, committed to providing jobs to a group with untapped potential.

The initiative kicked off in August with a huge job fair in Chicago; the next stop is Phoenix on October 30th.

Young job seekers benefit from the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative in obvious ways. But it’s a two-way street: major American businesses are learning from the opportunity youth they’re committed to hiring.

Ferril Onyett, director of HR for Taco Bell and Mary Porter, director of talent acquisition at Nordstrom, were both involved with the Chicago kickoff event, making real, live job offers to candidates on the spot. We talked to them to find out what the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative has meant for their companies.

Young blood keeps companies on top

Staying relevant is a challenge for any company. It’s easy for higher-ups to lose touch with what customers want. Employing hungry young employees with a wide variety of perspectives and experiences is key.

“Our brand identity is young and edgy,” Onyett said of Taco Bell. “These new hires from the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative bring that to life with real authenticity. Their youthful mindset brings us a unique way of looking at the business.”

Having a young, diverse workforce is also great for business.

“We want our employees to represent the community we serve,” Porter said. “We’ve been really excited by this opportunity to connect with a new, untapped pipeline of talent that will help our business grow.”

Passion is contagious

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative kickoff in Chicago proved that when opportunity youth are given opportunities, they bring an incredible amount of passion and ambition.

Porter witnessed firsthand the energizing power of these young job seekers.

“I was really inspired by their energy and enthusiasm and their commitment to being a part of something,” she said. “They want to work hard. They want to start and grow a career. There was an eagerness about them that is contagious.”

Onyett, who also spoke with candidates, echoed that sentiment.

“These youth made me remember what it was like to get my first job, gain new skills, and the excitement of starting a career,” she said. “The job fair brought out the best of our next generation of leaders.”

Loyal customers make the best employees

The best employees are the ones who are passionate about the brand and product they’re working with. So it makes sense that hiring the people who eat at Taco Bell are the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

“We want to hire people who love our food,” says Onyett. “We met tons of youth through this initiative who told us how much they love our Doritos Locos tacos, for instance. That passion for the food shines through on the job.”

“Opportunity youth” are hungry to learn

Porter and her Nordstrom team put some impressive numbers on the board in Chicago: they conducted 143 interviews and made 64 job offers.

But even the candidates who weren’t hired demonstrated the value of providing opportunity to young people who face barriers.

“I was really inspired by a candidate who came to the job fair with her grandmother,” Porter said. “She didn’t get a job that day, but she was vibrant after her interview. She talked about how much she had learned and was excited to try again. It’s a very personal thing.”

And Chicago was just the beginning. The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative will continue to be an exchange of ideas, skills and inspiration for opportunity youth and some of the country’s biggest corporations.

Get involved

Next stop: Phoenix on Friday, October 30th.

Interested in attending? Learn more and sign up for free here.