One New Year's Resolution Worth Keeping: Empower America's Youth - Our Future Workforce

01/16/2017 08:18 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2018

One New Year's Resolution Worth Keeping: Empower America's Youth - Our Future Workforce
Partnerships Supporting Youth are Critical for Advancing Workplace Readiness

by Alexis Glick

###

This week at New York's Javits Convention Center, one of the most important industry conferences will convene - the National Retail Federation's "Big Show 2017." We're talking 33,000 attendees, 500 exhibitors, and over 300 world-class speakers. For anyone who makes their career in retail commerce, the NRF's annual pow-wow is a big deal.

As CEO of the student-wellness and youth-empowerment nonprofit GENYOUth, I view the folks at the National Retail Federation as comrades-in-arms. We are partners because we share a common concern about -- and a focus on - the workplace readiness of our upcoming generation of youth. Now more than ever, we must empower youth with the skills and experience to build rewarding careers and successful lives in our global economy.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the United States, approximately three million high school graduates, and more than a million college graduates, will make up a massive "youth workforce" entering the job market in 2017 - this is particularly relevant as America's workforce potential is certain to be highlighted this Friday at the inauguration of America's 45th President, and as a new Congress and administration make a renewed commitment to prioritizing job creation across the country.

At GENYOUth, we address workplace readiness by enabling better nutrition and more opportunities for physical activity in the school environment -- which fuel academic excellence and, by extension, success in life. And we do it through a signature initiative known as AdVenture Capital -- a program through which we fund student-originated, student-led school wellness solutions and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

AdCap, as the program is known for short, turns students into problem-solving entrepreneurs by providing grants, mentors, and experiences for youth who conceive and manage projects that improve health and wellness in schools. The program cultivates students' business and life skills, and prepares them for careers and for the problem-solving and competitive nature of business today.

So what does this have to do with retail?

Simply that there's no bigger workplace on earth than the retail industry.

Retail is the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., accounting for nearly one in every four jobs in America. Since 2012, retail employment has grown by half a million jobs and is expected to grow by nearly another million by 2022. Retail supports an astonishing 42 million working Americans, contributing an amazing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP.

In the same way that my organization, GENYOUth, is dedicated to readying kids for the workplace through programs like AdVenture Capital, the National Retail Federation is similarly focused on advocacy, communication, and education around retail careers - in other words, not just advancing the interests of retail, but turning those interests into jobs that young people want and can build lives around.

But here's a challenge.

Although 32 percent of people's first jobs are in the retail industry, the number of hires these days is not keeping pace with the sector's growth - due to a skills shortage fed by gaps in education and training. In other words, a lag in workplace readiness. This weighs heavily on an industry that is becoming more sophisticated every day. And that's why a key focus of this week's "Big Show" will be discussing companies' workforce planning priorities, and how retailers can better attract, develop, and retain young talent, to both jobs and all-important internships.

As part of this focus, the NRF Foundation kicked off the Big Show yesterday by unveiling RISE Up, a groundbreaking new training and credentialing initiative designed by the retail industry to help people - regardless of educational background, economic means or age - acquire the skills they need to secure jobs in retail and advance into promising careers. RISE Up is unique in that it was created by leaders in the retail industry, in collaboration with nonprofit, public education and workforce development partners who will deliver the training. Learners will not only earn a credential for their resumes, but also the confidence to take that important first step toward a lifelong career. As Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF says, "good jobs change lives," and the retail industry is coming together to create that change. GENYOUth is equally committed to advancing this movement by collaborating with the NRF Foundation.

As it happens, two of AdVenture Capital's biggest commercial supporters - SAP and Workforce Software - are exhibitors at "Big Show 2017." These global companies share National Retail Federation's commitment to advancing workforce readiness with America's youth. In fact, GENYOUth and the AdVenture Capital program have partnered in 16 U.S. cities to date with SAP and WorkForce Software in presenting 16 social innovation days to help students develop the skills and disposition to think and act like entrepreneurs and young business leaders. These events have engaged over 800 students, ages 13-17, and impacted well over 100,000 students nationwide, and have resulted in 160 student-led health and wellness projects and solutions.

To those who work in the retail sector, and especially to my friends at the National Retail Federation, I commend and thank you for your focus on the importance of jobs for young people coming out of school and college. Retail has always powered our national economy, driven innovation, and provided value to individuals, communities, and our nation.

For our part, GENYOUth will continue its dedication to programs and initiatives like AdVenture Capital and RISE Up that ensure young people have the confidence, financial literacy, ingenuity, and communication skills needed to enter those jobs -- and to build families, careers, and lives around them.

In a healthy, retail-driven economy, we really are all in this together.

###

Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth, a national youth-empowerment and school-wellness nonprofit.