To help address youth unemployment in North Texas, several companies recently gathered at the first-ever Dallas Opportunity Fair, a day-long hiring event to help local 16- to 24-year-olds find jobs.
Who are the disconnected?
Thirteen percent of young people in Dallas-Forth Worth are what social scientists call the “disconnected.”
“This would be young adults, who have graduated or not graduated high school, who have moved into a job maybe once, but not stuck, with no career path,” says Laurie Larrea, president of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas. “And they tend to fall into a group of ‘what else can I do?’ They lose hope and they fall away.”
Young parents, folks with criminal records, people buried in debt and living in poverty – Larrea says any combination of these factors are barriers to finding stable employment.
Move into neighborhoods like South Dallas and Oak Cliff, and the number of disconnected youth goes up to one in four. In West Dallas, it’s as high as 34 percent. By contrast, the lowest rate of disconnection in all of North Texas is just six percent – in West Plano.
That’s according to data from Measure of America, a project from the Social Science Research Council.
Larrea says Dallas as a whole has a robust economy. But she says too often, pockets get ignored.
“That doesn’t say that every community participates equally and is seeing that same bounce from the economy. How long do you ride a wave like this?” she says. “We need these kids. We need them in the pipeline. Employers need them. Our economy needs them.”
Connecting the disconnected
That’s why at the first-ever Dallas Opportunity Fair, more than 30 national employers were prepared to offer 1,700 jobs on the spot. It was billed as one of the largest youth job fairs in state history.
Large retailers like JCPenney, Five Guys, Walmart and even Sprinkles cupcakes set up stalls at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown.
The ambience was more county fair than job fair. It felt like a place not to be bogged down by the stresses of work.
There was a Starbucks station teaching aspiring baristas the art of making a latte. Macy’s employees showed folks how to tie a tie, and LinkedIn took free headshots and helped create online profiles.
There were also application and resume-building stations, as well as practice interviews.
“These young people arrive, often having been told that they are not ready to work and that they’re not even hirable. We reject that,” says John Kelly, senior vice president of global social impact and public policy for Starbucks.
The coffee company leads the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which is a national coalition of employers and social service organizations dedicated to eliminating youth unemployment around the country. The group put on this fair in Dallas and previously hosted events in Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle.
“This isn’t a career fair. This is literally a job fair, where they go in and they interview, and many of them will walk out with one or two job offers,” Kelly says. “And that’s transformative to a kid or a young person who has been told they’re not hirable.”