The future of work is changing and sparking a shift in our approach to cultivating, recruiting, and retaining talent to meet bottom-line demands and sustain local economies. Throughout the U.S. the need for talent has become more pronounced with 53% of businesses citing that their ability to find and keep the right employees directly impacts their success, and over 40% of employers reporting difficulty filling jobs due to a lack of qualified applicants. It is clear that workforce systems that served the talent needs of the past must be reignited as talent development engines to meet the business realities of our 21st century economy.

Currently in the U.S, more than 3.4 million jobs remain vacant due to a lack of skilled workers, while more than 5.5 million young adults between the ages of 18–24 are unemployed and not in school. This reservoir of untapped talent and potential is known as opportunity youth, and is a key millennial demographic that we can no longer afford to ignore. The workforce paradox between employers unable to fill positions and an abundance of young adults looking for career pathways highlights the undeniable need for business support, insight and leadership in closing the talent divide.

This year we saw the emergence of businesses leading new skills development strategies that leveraged the youth unemployment and talent-divide crisis to innovate solutions for: filling critical entry to mid-skill level positions, consistently meeting consumer needs and increasing profits and market growth. At LeadersUp we call this inclusive economics and we believe inclusivity will be a key component to talent development strategies in the upcoming years.

As our country becomes a minority-majority population with a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic opportunity youth, connecting communities that have been historically underutilized to employment pathways will be both an essential source of ingenuity and talent for businesses and a safeguard for protecting the middle class.

LeadersUp is focused on preparing businesses and communities with the tools to align their goals with the demographic and workforce trends on the horizon. From our first employer pilot that provided the inaugural staff for international food manufacturer SK Food Group’s expansion into the Columbus, Ohio, region to supporting the groundbreaking 100,000 Opportunities Initiative that galvanized the support of more than 30 leading U.S. businesses to recruit and retain opportunity youth, our commitment to fostering public-private partnerships and providing end-to-end talent development and retention support has allowed us to launch successful youth employment pilot initiatives in key markets across the U.S.

We started this journey over two years ago with the belief that the solution to the youth unemployment and widening talent divide was in the very challenge we faced. Since our founding in 2013, we have connected more than 1,000 opportunity youth to employment pathways, lowered the interview-to-hire ratio from 18:1 to 3:1, and achieved a 60% retention rate. However, I’m most proud of the growing employer-led movement that we get to support that has been developed and nurtured by countless advocates, skilling organizations, and community leaders.

Over the next few days we will be acknowledging some of those key partners and moments we’ve been fortunate to be a part of that have help shaped this movement. I encourage you to follow our social media pages to join the conversation. As we count down the final days of 2015, we invite you to complete the brief questionnaire below to share how we can strengthen our impact in bridging the divide together. When I look ahead to 2016, I’m filled with hope and a deep appreciation for the resiliency of our communities, for they hold the source to our greatest resource: human capital.


Jeffery Wallace