Much of what we learned challenged preconceptions about the kinds of jobs that disconnected youth could perform. For example, the position of computer support technologist would not seem to be a natural fit, as most of New York’s computer support techs have attended college. However, we identified two nonprofit organizations with long track records in training and placing youth who had nothing more than a high school diploma in these well-paying, highly competitive positions.
Experts we interviewed also challenged common assumptions about some of the occupations. For instance, we were not initially planning to include opportunities in the retail and hospitality sectors, based on the widely held belief that they offered dead-end jobs with low wages. However, directors of the city’s Workforce1 Career Centers and workforce development practitioners made us take a second look after they pointed out how these sectors offer a crucial foothold in the job market for youth with lower educational attainment and minimal work experience.
On the other hand, some occupations that initially seemed like good options were found to be less auspicious after further investigation. For instance, we eliminated the occupation of tractor-trailer driver from our target list after learning that drivers had to be over 25 and have years of professional driving experience. We also dropped some jobs because we were told that youth shied away from them. For example, there are a significant number of sales openings in the wholesale trade and manufacturing sector at base salaries of $10 to $15 per hour, plus commissions that raise total compensation to $40,000 to $50,000 per year, according to Martin D’Andrade, director of the city’s Workforce1 Manufacturing Career Center. Although these jobs are available to youth without a high school degree, we learned that they are hard to fill, likely because they require a degree of confidence to sell products and services that many youth may lack.
Although we found more than two dozen occupations that offer good career prospects, there are serious obstacles standing in the way. Nearly every occupation with a median salary of at least $25,000 requires some form of post-secondary training and many employers require a high school diploma and reading proficiency at a 10th grade level to perform basic tasks.
Even more important than skills training and educational qualifications may be job readiness. According to many of the employers and workforce development experts we interviewed, employers want workers who understand how to dress appropriately, how to speak to customers and how to accept criticism. But even with these basic skills, young adults may have a hard time getting hired because there is no easy way for them to find openings.
All of these barriers are especially keen for young adults with little or no work experience. Our recommendations to address them include the following:
Expand short-term sectoral training programs into additional occupations. Short-term sectoral training programs operated by nonprofit organizations, community colleges and the New York City Technical College have been particularly effective at qualifying New Yorkers for many of the occupations discussed in this report. However, in two of the occupations listed here—clerical and administrative support, and property management—the number of available training slots meets only about a tenth of the demand for workers in these two sectors.
Create sectoral training programs for youth. The sector-based approach to workforce training has largely focused on adults. Programs should be adapted to better serve young adults.
Provide young adults with information. Even young people who are work ready often struggle to access jobs because they simply aren’t aware of the opportunities that are out there. To remedy this career information deficit, the city should consider creating storefront community outreach centers in neighborhoods where large numbers of unemployed young adults live. These centers would be a source of referrals to job openings, as well as to education and training programs.
Assist young adults in obtaining a driver’s license. One of the more surprising barriers for young adults to access decent paying career opportunities is the lack of a driver’s license. Our research found that many of the occupations expected to grow in the years ahead require workers to have a driver’s license, something that too few young adults in New York have. Even if employers don’t require commercial driving skills, some occasionally need their workers to pick up or deliver supplies. For example, retail and food service employers might ask employees to move a vehicle or pick up goods for them. Some employers also see having a driver’s license as a sign of responsibility and job readiness.
Create better connections between workforce providers and employers. While community-based workforce providers are playing a critical role in getting young adults into decent paying jobs, a number of these organizations could benefit from having stronger relationships with employers.
Help young adults meet entry-level job requirements. Most of New York City’s unemployed young adults lack a high school degree or a high school equivalency (HSE) diploma. At the same time, most of the jobs paying a median annual wage of at least $25,000 require a degree or HSE diploma. Without this basic credential, these young adults cannot qualify for a reasonable entry level job and are unlikely to ever be able to support a family. Programs that help prepare individuals for the high school equivalency exam are generally regarded as valuable, but the number of slots for these prep programs is inadequate to meet the need.
Develop more internships and apprenticeship opportunities. Employers are often reluctant to take a chance on a young person without work experience and no training program can substitute for real world experience. More opportunities are needed for young people to learn how to work at job sites and apprenticeships that groom young people for stable jobs that pay livable wages.
This report discusses occupations in seven economic sectors—office/administrative, healthcare, property maintenance, transportation, telecommunications/ utilities, retail and hospitality—that provide good first jobs for young persons with limited education, training, work experience and economic resources.
Our analysis below details 26 occupations across seven sectors that could provide nearly 26,000 disconnected youth with the “chance of a lifetime” for decent paying work, without substantial educational and training requirements. Each of these occupations pays a median wage of least $25,000 a year, or can directly lead to a position paying at that level. Additionally, 16 of the occupations do not require a high school degree or high-school-equivalency degree and are projected to have over 16,000 openings annually. The remaining occupations require no more than a high school diploma or high-school-equivalency degree and no more than six months of additional training. Across these sectors and occupations, there will be significant turnover and some growth, providing good opportunities for youth to gain a foothold in the workplace.