Let’s Revamp Education to Help Reduce Youth Unemployment Rates

One key component of Brightside Produce is a partnership with neighborhood youth in the under-served areas of Minneapolis where Brightside operates. Every week, Brightside team members from the St. Thomas community and the Minneapolis neighborhoods work together to make regular deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores. Both university students and their youth partner developing tangible business skills while making a meaningful contribution to the community. The partnership works, but unfortunately it isn’t nearly enough to address the massive need for youth employment and job training.

Although the national unemployment rate in the U.S. has fallen recently, youth unemployment remains high, especially for young minorities (NPR 2014). In Minnesota, unemployment among all youth ages 16-19 was 10.1% in 2017 (Governing 2017). Across the country, young African American workers (age 16-24) were almost twice as likely in 2015 to be unemployed as young white workers were (19.2% v. 10.1%. Maciag 2016). These trends in the U.S. reflect global patterns, as nearly 40% of young people globally are unemployed or ranked among the “working poor” (Faymann 2017).

One reason for these patterns is that young people are not as valued in the labor market. But many youth are capable individuals who have the potential to add a lot of energy, creativity, and skill to organizations. As a community, we need to look at new, unconventional approaches to help the younger generations develop skills and gain experience so that they can reach their potential. Continuing to do things as they have been done in the past will not address the mismatch between what employment markets need and what youth can provide (Garlick 2013).

There are many avenues to better prepare youth to enter the employment market, and this starts with education. Rapid change in the economy has resulted in the elimination of jobs in some sectors and the creation of jobs in others. This means that the skills necessary for employment have also changed, with many more jobs requiring training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) (Raidt 2014). Even factory jobs now often require STEM education and specialized skills, and it is very difficult for someone without a STEM education to pursue a career in these growing areas. Improving STEM education, especially for traditionally disadvantaged groups, is now widely viewed as a critical step for increasing economic opportunities for young people in the U.S. (Xie 2015). 

Employers continue to report difficulty in finding qualified young employees because of a skills’ gap between what employers demand and what most youth possess (Garlick 2013). One way to help close this gap is by placing more emphasis on education combined with opportunities for vocational training and apprenticeships (Raidt 2014). Education needs to be performance driven with experience-based curricula that fosters critical thinking, decision making and initiative. These strategies will facilitate the transition of youth into the workplace. Providing this type of training early in students’ educational careers will be especially important for students who don’t graduate high school or who graduate but don’t go to college. These educational reforms should be done in collaboration with employers, organizations, colleges and the community at large as they all have a vested interest in improving youth employability (Raidt 2014).

In addition, positive attributes of young people should be nurtured and developed to help them get jobs and develop careers. Youth are often independent and ambitious. These traits can help them reach their full potential, but they are much more important if youth can get adequate mentoring and support (Raidt 2014). Support and access to opportunities and financial resources can be especially useful for helping youth develop creative and entrepreneurial attributes. The focus on entrepreneurship is now often viewed as a valuable way to create jobs and enhance economic independence, especially for young people in underserved regions (Awogbenle & Iwuamadi 2010). Entrepreneurial training coupled with technological advances will likely continue to create new businesses and, in turn, more jobs for young people.

Young people, supported by their communities, also need to step up and realize and appreciate the importance of striving for excellence and advancement. They need to understand that success is not delivered to them, but instead needs to be achieved through dedication and hard work, usually starting at entry level (Raidt 2014). There is virtue in this commitment. Many leaders are optimistic, including Ivana Ilić, General Secretary of YMCA Europe, who concluded a recent United Nations’ Economic and Social Council Youth Forum by stating that “young people today are not the generation to sit around and wait for other people to help them out” (Ilić 2017).

Because of their partnerships with young people, Brightside and similar organizations are in a unique position to provide youth with a way of both practicing and acquiring social entrepreneurial skills. Although Brightside is not currently designed as an employment skills training program, it does have elements which allow youth to engage with a business and get a taste for work. Brightside would be strengthened if student workers and youth partners could have more formal training to develop foundational skills, assets and ambitions. Unfortunately, this type of training takes time and resources, making it difficult for small non-profits to pull off. However, this type of training would likely enhance career opportunities while allowing both youth and students to engage more fully with the Brightside operation. An emphasis on job training could also strengthen the relationship between education and work. By adding more skill-building components to both college and youth education, young people would gain confidence and likely have an easier time transitioning into long-term employment opportunities.

Steven Fuller and Whitney Oaks running a BrightSide FarmStand in summer 2016


Awogbenle, A. Cyril and K. Chijioke Iwuamadi. 2010. "Youth Unemployment: Entrepreneurship Development Programme as an Intervention Mechanism." African Journal of Business Management 4 (6): 831.

Garlick, Saul. 2013. "Reversing the Tide of Youth Unemployment." Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization 8 (3-4): 213-217.

Ilić, Ivana. 2017. “Closing Remarks.” Closing Session. United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, 31 Jan. 2017, New York, United Nations Headquarters.

Faymann, Werner. 2017. “Opening Remarks.” Interactive Roundtable on Means of Implementation and Financing for Youth Development. United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, 31 Jan. 2017, New York, United Nations Headquarters.

Governing Magazine: State and Local Government News for America's Leaders. 2017. “Youth Unemployment Rate, Figures by State.”

NPR Staff. 2014. “Youth Unemployment Crisis Hits African-Americans Hardest.” MPR News, Minnesota Public Radio, 21 July 2014.

Raidt, John. 2014. “Youth Employment: The Mission of Our Time.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 15 Jan. 2014.

Xie, Yu, Michael Fang, and Kimberlee Shauman. 2015. "STEM Education." Annual Review of Sociology 41: 331-357.

“Young People Need Skills Training, Jobs to Help Create Better World for All, Speakers Tell Economic and Social Council as Youth Forum Concludes.” United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, United Nations, 31 Jan. 2017.

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