Starbucks and Columbus, Ohio Mayor Unlock Opportunities For City’s Youth

Nearly 7 million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working, with many lacking the skills needed to secure jobs. At the same time, thousands of businesses across the nation need a well-trained, young adult workforce.

To help address this gap, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman joined Starbucks (September 4, 2014) to host Ohio’s first Solutions City™ town hall. It is part of a national initiative conceived by Starbucks and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to unite local leaders, non-profit organizations and businesses in solving community challenges through a series of meetings held in Starbucks® stores.

Columbus is one of five U.S. cities chosen to participate in this initiative along with Sacramento, Orlando, Baltimore and Phoenix. Over the course of the year, each of these cities will host community meetings to find ways to create pathways to employment and education for youth and returning veterans.

“Our community is keenly aware of the many challenges that face our young people and the need for businesses to come together with the community to help build a pipeline of skilled and passionate talent to propel our city’s economy,” said Mayor Coleman, addressing more than 40 community leaders, including representatives of the Columbus Chamber, Columbus City Schools, COWIC/Ohio Means Jobs and Franklin County.

Steve Sposari, who attended Thursday’s town hall, knows the challenges businesses and communities face. As President and CEO of SK Food Group, a Starbucks food supplier with manufacturing facilities around the nation, he relies on skilled young talent to fill supply chain roles.

“We have a need for candidates who are looking for careers with upward mobility, driven to succeed and have a good work ethic,” said Sposari.. “Our company prides itself in developing future leaders, so we’re looking for young people who have those attributes, who are willing to grow.”

Earlier this year, Sposari leveraged the work of a new organization called LeadersUp to meet the workforce needs of his new plant being built in Columbus. LeadersUp works with businesses - including those in Starbucks supply chain - to bridge the divide between the untapped potential of young people and the business challenge of finding and keeping the best talent. In Columbus, LeadersUp selected the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corporation (COWIC) as the local workforce partner to support the recruitment, training and retention needs of SK Foods.

SK Food Group is creating more than 200 jobs for the region and has committed to allocating 10-15% of the company’s entry level positions to be filled by opportunity youth.

“We worked with LeadersUp to do a deep dive into our turnover costs and recruit talent differently,” said Sposari. “We’re not only providing these young people with a new career path, but we’re reducing our turnover costs. It’s good for our bottom line and it’s one of many reasons other businesses ought to consider these types of initiatives.”

Jeffrey Wallace, Executive Director of LeadersUp, worked closely with Sposari to shape the program in Columbus, and joined Thursday’s Solutions City™ meeting to share his insights with other participants. For Wallace, the motivation to do more for our young people is deeply personal.

“My sister was faced with multiple education and career challenges,” Wallace recalled. “One day she stumbled upon an advertisement in the local newspaper promoting a culinary arts training program. She knew she was a pretty good cook, so she gave the program a try in hopes that the training could help her find a job and earn a livable wage. Not only did this program provide vocational and professional training it also provided a clear pathway to a full time career.”

Today, Wallace’s sister is a manager within her banquet division, with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu and is pursuing a second degree.

Wallace believes businesses have a role to play in helping young people like his sister who then become productive, independent members of the workforce.

“Business leadership will get our work to scale,” he said. “I want to show the business community that there is value in growing talent and that opportunity youth is the talent pool to engage to meet their workforce needs.”

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