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September 19, 2018

0416169900008It’s shocking when you think about it: imagine a young person who is in the prime age range for building essential skills, learning expertise and gaining critical early work experience being completely disconnected from both work and school. According to our most recent data, more than 40,000 16–24-year-olds in the region were in this state of suspension in 2016. The question remains: Why? Why would a young, able-bodied person in the San Diego community—which has record-high employment and ample education options—opt out of both?  

There are many explanations for the mystery of youth disconnection, but one of them is the low quality of jobs that are most often available to unskilled young people. On September 18, we discussed this important topic during our third OpportunitySD webinar, Quality Jobs for Youth.

Part-time jobs with no benefits, an unpredictable schedule and variable hours keep workers in a state of vulnerability and instability. They also make it difficult for young adults to blend work with education or children care. Low wages cause young workers to work more hours which means less time and energy to invest in themselves, such as receiving education or training. And when hours vary unpredictably from week to week, it is difficult to follow a budget or pay for emergency living expenses, let alone rent. One major national retailer, for example, restricts 95 percent of its workforce to part-time employment (without benefits) with hours varying unpredictably from week to week, ranging from 0–29 hours.  Not surprisingly, the retailer found in a recent survey of employees that 51 percent were food insecure and 44 percent relied on credit cards to make ends meet.

Low quality jobs cause stints of disconnection for young adults and a high turnover for employers. Increasing the quality of jobs for youth can help our region cut the rate and halve the gap of opportunity youth.

Here are 3 main areas of focus for improving job quality in our region: 

Improve wages and benefits 

Low wages and benefits mean that youth need to work more hours to cover their expenses, which in turn means fewer hours are available for school or training. San Diego and California have already committed to increasing minimum wage to $15 an hour, which will help.

Keep hours predictable 


Like low wages, schedule unpredictability makes it hard for young adults to blend work and education, while also making it difficult for young parents to arrange child care. Unpredictable hours also lead to uneven income, which contributes to financial instability. Many cities such as San Francisco have created schedule predictability measures that ensure large employers are giving their employees 2–3 weeks’ notice of their work schedule, allowing ample time to adjust and plan.

Add “springiness” to jobs

When entry level jobs offer options for promotion and/or provide support for education and training, they are said to be “springboard jobs.”  Springboard jobs help young workers get launched into a career.  

It is especially important for employers in retail, hospitality and food service to consider how they could make their jobs “springboard jobs” for young workers since 45 percent of 16–24-year-olds work in these sectors nationally. Local employers such as Watkins Wellness, Gap and Starbucks have taken the lead on this front and are making sure that their jobs build positive work habits, customer service skills, mentorship, and lead to a career or education support.  

During the webinar, we were joined by Marianne Merola, the Education Program Manager at McDonald’s—which is a common entry-level employer for young adults. Merola described a new program called Archways to Opportunity. The program provides English language classes, a free high school completion program, tuition assistance for post-secondary education ($3,000 per year) and education advising. All benefits are offered at no cost to employees or their local franchise. McDonald’s created Archways to retain young workers and has found that participants in the program tend to remain with the employer longer. We encourage local franchise owners to promote the program to help employees further their education and achieve their dreams. 

There are roles that all stakeholders play in improving job quality for youth. Youth developers can help young adults understand how to decide if a job is a good job for them—quality can be in the eye of the job seeker. Some young adults treasure schedule flexibility while others need schedule predictability. Some may require health benefits while others feel secure with an alternative plan, such as Covered California. Knowing the personal priorities of the employee and providing options can help young people find jobs that will serve their needs, which in turn will enhance retention over time. Employers should strive to add quality and springiness to their entry level positions while policymakers can consider regulations that will help raise job quality in the region.

The youth are the future, so we shouldn’t wait to start investing in their future success.

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