What started nearly a year ago as conversations between community and business leaders around cups of coffee at a Starbucks store in Columbus, Ohio has turned into a community-wide effort to address youth unemployment.
Last summer, Starbucks and the U.S. Conference of Mayors launched a national initiative called Solutions City™, to unite civic leaders, non-profit organizations and businesses in solving community challenges. In the past year a series of town hall style meetings have been held in select Starbucks® stores across five U.S. cities.
Since launching in Columbus in September 2014, under the leadership of Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, participants have gathered regularly to tackle the issue of youth unemployment, particularly for low-income young adults. They are often called “opportunity youth” because they are not only seeking opportunity, but they represent untapped opportunity for businesses seeking new talent. The demographic is described as those between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or employed.
Starbucks and the City of Columbus hosted their final Solutions City™ meeting yesterday. Although the formal meetings have now concluded, participants are now driving forward their plans to increase youth employment.
The Business Case for Hiring Opportunity Youth
Ohio-based food supply company SK Foods, a key part of Starbucks food supply chain, has been a part of the Solutions City™ initiative since it first launched in Columbus. The company has already hired over 100 opportunity youth to meet the workforce needs of their new plant in Columbus by leveraging the work of a local nonprofit organization called LeadersUp and the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corporation (COWIC). SK Foods has found these employees typically stay 30% longer than others, helping control turnover costs while providing youth an opportunity for advancement.
“We have a need for candidates who are looking for careers with upward mobility, driven to succeed and have a good work ethic,” said Steve Sposari, CEO of SK Foods. “We worked with LeadersUp to do a deep dive into our turnover costs and recruit talent differently. 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.”
An Unexpected Pipeline for Talent
Through networking opportunities at the Solutions City™ town halls, local Starbucks store manager Andrew Bertolino discovered Homeport, a local affordable housing organization, to help spearhead a hiring initiative for opportunity youth. Next week (May 21, 2015) Bertolino’s team at Starbucks will hold a job fair at Homeport’s affordable housing community in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. They’re in search of baristas and shift supervisors for 45 Starbucks stores in Central Ohio. Over 5,500 people live in Homeport homes, half 18 and under, with 63 percent identifying as African American.
“We often try different ways to hire for our stores but nothing quite as out of the box as this,” said Bertolino. “We want to diversify our employment base in the area and provide more opportunities to individuals struggling to break into the job market. We are going out into the community to get people into our workforce.”
Starbucks hopes many of the new hires from the job fair will consider enrolling in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which gives eligible partners the opportunity to complete an online, four-year degree program from Arizona State University. Starbucks reimburses partners (employees) 100 percent of any tuition remaining after other qualifying scholarships or financial aid.
“This takes our commitment to our residents to another level, providing meaningful employment opportunities close to home,” said Amy Klaben, President/CEO of Homeport. “It is the first time a major employer has provided this kind of opportunity at Homeport.”
Championing Work Readiness
Through the Solutions City™ town halls, Starbucks also had the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the COWIC to support the hiring of opportunity youth in the community. Starbucks will serve as the 2015 Employer Champion for COWIC’s S.O.A.R.hire! Academy (Successful Opportunities to Achieve and Reconnect), a partnership between local government, community organizations, employers, and workforce training agencies. The program gives young adults a chance to explore career options through a company-paid job experience, following successful completion of a 3 hour work readiness & leadership development workshop. Starbucks has committed to hiring partners for its Central Ohio stores from the S.O.A.R.hire! Academy job fairs this summer and is encouraging other local companies to join in the effort. COWIC expects over 20 area businesses to participate.
“It’s important to understand that hiring young people for summer employment isn’t just good for the young people,” said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. “It’s also good for businesses who can have some of their unique needs met by employees working on a temporary basis. I want to thank COWIC, Franklin County, Starbucks and others who participated in Solutions City for their efforts to help open up even more opportunities for thousands of young people, preparing them for a brighter future.”