Recognizing the need to collectively tackle growing racial disparities, organizations from the public, private and philanthropic sectors today announced a regional strategy that will increase youth employability to maintain a strong and competitive economy. Ready by 21 St Louis, in partnership with other nonprofits and private businesses, founded the STL Regional Youth Employment Coalition (RYEC) to ensure greater racial equity in in the region’s workforce. The coalition will work with schools and businesses to provide pre-employment and soft skills training programs for youth, aged 14-25 throughout St. Louis City and County. It will also provide wrap-around support for participants in order to reduce other barriers to employment such as access to reliable transportation.
“Economic growth depends on a building a workforce that has the skills and education businesses need,” Tom Chulick, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber said. “By investing in our young people and providing employers with a strong pipeline of local talent, we ensure that we will have a vibrant, diverse and thriving business community. ”
There are stark racial disparities in economic mobility in the St. Louis region. Unemployment in the St. Louis region is 3.3 percent, the lowest the indicator has been in 18 years. In St Louis and St. Louis County, however, the unemployment rate for African Americans ages 20-24 currently stands nearly five time higher at 16.6 percent.
RYEC began addressing these barriers over the past year through key partnerships and piloting innovative programs. In summer 2018, RYEC was selected as a sub-pilot of the Gateway Go Program, which provided half-fare transit access for 435 participating youth who collectively used their cards a total of 20,042 times. Next summer, RYEC plans to provide 700 youth with loaded Gateway Go Cards in the summer of 2019.
In addition to reducing transportation barriers, RYEC coalition partners are working together to connect high school students to credential and apprenticeship programs. These programs lead to middle skill jobs which account for nearly 40 percent of Missouri jobs, but which regularly go unfilled due to a shortage of qualified workers.
“There are a number of credential and apprenticeship programs in our region that prepare participants for middle skill jobs within our highest growth industries,” said Hart Nelson, associate vice chancellor for Workforce Solutions at St. Louis Community College. “RYEC is building a coordinated system to connect young people to these high-quality programs so they can compete and succeed in the 21st century.”
In spring of 2018, Ready by 21 St. Louis collaborated with St. Louis Community College to enroll high school seniors in the Boeing Pre-Employment Program. The program is a five week course that provides instruction in aircraft assembly techniques for assembly mechanic positions within Boeing. Twenty-one students enrolled in the program, and a number of young people have completed the program and have been hired to work full-time at Boeing.
Through various pilot programs and partnerships with regional schools and businesses, RYEC has already demonstrated great success for this approach, providing more 500 youth with wrap around services and job placements in the last year.
Over the next three years, RYEC will continue to close opportunity gaps while building on these successes. RYEC’s strategic plan has outlined three focus areas which will prioritize increasing the quality of pre-placement training for regional summer youth employment programs to increase soft skills and financial literacy, coordinating wrap around support for youth like Gateway Go Cards, and developing a coordinated referral system to credential and apprenticeship training opportunities for youth up to the age of 25.
“We know that early work experience is strong predictor of future employment,” said Shanise Johnson, executive director of the St. Louis Internship Program. “We’re not just connecting young people to jobs. We are also providing professional development and enrichment activities that will equip our future leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to advance in any career path.”
RYEC is comprised of many committed partners including businesses, local government and educational institutions. Participating businesses provided meaningful work experience in a variety of sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, public administration, and arts and entertainment with jobs paying $8.00-$15.00 hour.
Their strategic plan has been incorporated as part of the 5-year Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) for the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Long term, RYEC will continue to work on enhancing collaboration between educational institutions and employers to ensure K-12, job training programs and post-secondary institutions are aware of workforce needs and are adequately preparing young people for successful careers.