01/23/2013 09:21 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Reconnecting Disconnected Youth to the Workforce and Sustainable Careers

Finding jobs for otherwise disconnected youth, and reducing the nation's youth unemployment crisis has been a key national focus. Consider The White House's 2012 Summer Jobs Plus "call to action," along with many other national organizations like Opportunities Nation, CCRY (Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth), CLASP and a newly formed Aspen Institute Community Solutions effort. Across the nation and in Connecticut, our economic future and vitality depends on having an educated and skilled talent pipeline of youth who are ready to join the workforce directly from high school or after pursuing post-secondary education. Yet, a large majority of teens don't make it through high school. Many have been sidetracked with family challenges. Some have made some bad choices, and that has set them back. Some simply have barriers like English speaking, reading, writing or math deficiencies that have held them back.

Yet, we need these individuals to fill expected gaps in workforce supply in the coming years. Many businesses, across many industry sectors, across the state and nation, are about to face a "workforce exodus" due to the aging and retiring baby boomer generation. Generation "X" isn't going to help much, as there simply isn't enough of them, and Generation "Y" is just getting up to speed. We need to look to underutilized segments of our population to start filling the void. So it is up to us to find a way to get them the skills and the job experience to help them succeed.

Disconnected youth have the potential. They often just need an invitation to reconnect, and some basic "career competency" training combined with job opportunities from which to gain experience, before they can spread their wings, to turn their lives around and hop on a track of success.

Through The Huffington Post JobRaising Challenge, we ask you to help finance that track of success. You help us a little bit, and we will find these individuals, generally, ages 16 to 21, reconnect them, provide them the career competency training they need, prepare them for the workplace, and then find them a job. Through Capital Workforce Partners' current employer engagement strategies, we have already identified a number of business leaders and recruiters who understand the importance of getting young people into their workplaces now. These will be new jobs, and ones that will grow and develop over time.

A human resources representative from one of our local insurance companies said:

"Smart businesses will get young people into their workplaces now, and learn from them. After all, these are these businesses' future consumers. These are future insurance buyers, car buyers, health care recipients, and purchasers of all things personal and commercial. Just give them a job so they can start building their career while you learn from them."

Youth unemployment remains high even as the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession. At the national level in June 2012, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds stood at 23.7 percent and at 13.7 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds. Studies have shown youth who spend time disconnected from both the world of work and school, were substantially more likely to be jobless, poor and economically dependent. The low percentage of youth working, especially in distressed urban areas, means that the state's talent pipeline is not being adequately replenished or even measurably expanded. Connecticut's youth population is also projected to begin declining in the 2015 to 2020 timeframe at a time when new younger workers will tend to be minorities with lower levels of educational attainment and earning power.

Our youth employment programs are in high demand. For the summer of 2012, in north-central Connecticut, we found jobs for more than 2,250 youths who come from low-income families, but we needed to turn away nearly 3,500 applicants primarily due to insufficient funds. The State of Connecticut currently invests a little more than $1.4 million to our region to fund employment and training for "in-school" youths, but that funding is at risk. Additionally, there has been no funding for disconnected youth since the 2009 ARRA stimulus funds, which were only good for a year.

We need your help.

Cumulative years of work experience in the teen years tends to increase employability, weekly wages, and formal training for teens as they reach their 20s and contributes to higher lifelong earnings. The loss of lifetime earnings for students who dropped out of school in 2010 alone totals more than $2.6 billion. If the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent, Connecticut's economy could see a combination of crime related savings and additional revenue of about $63.3 million per year.

We need to act now. Your investment will mean a brighter future for many youth in north-central Connecticut and at the same time, it will add economic and human capital value to the state and nation's gradual recovery.