THE BLOG
09/24/2014 01:51 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

The Most Overlooked Opportunity in American Business Today

More than four million positions are vacant right now in the United States. Businesses are looking at a future where their need for qualified people is only growing. The problem is, we're thinking about qualifications in the wrong way.

A famous CEO once told me that he liked hiring young people who had persevered through obstacles they were born into. He thought they were often determined to succeed and adept at solving problems. While other executives may share his sentiment, they don't know where to find these young workers. Worse still, their companies have hiring processes that eliminate these talented youth.

That's why the Grads of Life campaign is such an incredible help to businesses large and small. By shifting perceptions of young people who don't have traditional professional trajectories, we can help prevent employers from missing out on a competitive advantage.

Grads of Life is a PSA campaign that a group of nonprofit partners, including my organization -- Opportunity Nation -- created with the Ad Council. In addition to multimedia content, including TV and other spots with narratives that make you rethink who might make an ideal job candidate, the website has tools to help companies reimagine their hiring processes. This includes a directory of organizations that employers are recommending because of their proven ability to prepare young people for jobs.

We have six million 16-24 year olds--1 in 7 American youth--who are neither in school nor working. The Great Recession and our lackluster economic recovery have left young people behind in unprecedented numbers. But these so-called disconnected youth offer an opening for businesses that are aiming to grow. Tremendous talent and untapped potential reside within this group. They are eager for the chance to demonstrate their work ethic and loyalty towards the company that gives them a chance. We call them opportunity youth.

Pacific Gas & Electric believes in the value of opportunity youth. By creating new pathways into their company for young Americans with non-traditional backgrounds, PG & E has experienced a 10 percent increase in employee retention rates and a 3-to-1 return on investment through increased time-to-productivity.

Opportunity Nation works everyday with other corporations that are successfully creating pathways for disconnected teens and young adults and are finding quality employees. The significant business benefits they report include cost-effective talent acquisitions, higher productivity, increased diversity to match their customer base, improved morale and enhanced employee engagement. Southwire, CVS, Gap and South Street financial are just some of the companies that are leading the way in cultivating and training opportunity youth.

It's time to change the narrow way many employers review the resumes of young workers. In clinging to what we think are the ideal qualifications, we are missing out on considering and hiring people who might well be the best employees.

Please share Grads of Life's PSAs and be part of changing people's perceptions. You can help employers move past assumptions some people hold about 16-24 year-olds without conventional credentials. This means getting back to some old-fashioned values like real-world experience, resilience and getting to know people for who they are, rather than only considering their resume. The processes companies have developed to screen applicants are now keeping them from finding many potential employees - youth who just want the opportunity to prove themselves, and succeed.

Let's help them get their fair shot at the American Dream.

The Grads of Life campaign is a collaboration of the Ad Council, Year Up, the Employment Pathways Project, New Options Project, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, Opportunity Nation, ConPRmetidos and Public Private Possibilities.