Opportunity Youth Add Value to Starbucks Stores

Krissy LaFlech places a lot of stock in a solid handshake. So when a 17-year-old applicant approached her at last summer’s 100,000 Opportunity Fair & Forum in Chicago with a confident grip, LaFlech was impressed, and a little curious. It wasn’t something she often encountered among young people. The Starbucks store manager inquired where the young man developed that great shake and his response had immediate impact on her hiring perspective.

“He said, ‘I took a class at a youth center on the South Side of Chicago,’” LaFlech recalled. “They taught him how to shake hands, how to dress for interviews, how to make eye contact. It was really inspiring. At 17, he took the initiative to take that class so he could go into an interview and better himself.”

The young man with the memorable handshake ended up being one of 10 young people LaFlech extended a Starbucks job offer to that day and he’s one of the reasons she believes the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is an asset for Starbucks and other leading companies participating in the effort.

The country's largest employer-led coalition announced today it has achieved its goal of hiring 100,000 youth – the population of 16-24 year olds who are out of work and not in school – two years ahead of schedule. The coalition now pledges to help one million young people in the next five years.

Among the other new Starbucks partners LaFlech encountered at Chicago’s McCormick Place was Hagar Johnson (pictured above), a new resident to the Windy City who was growing frustrated with the rejection she was encountering on her job search.

Though Johnson was initially timid, LaFlech was impressed with the 23-year-old’s maturity and personality, telling her that she was a perfect fit for Starbucks.

“We had the same viewpoints about leadership and how to come together as a team,” Johnson said. “She offered a job on the spot and I took it on the spot.”

Johnson’s first day with Starbucks was August 17, 2015, just four days after the job fair was held. Less than six months later, she was promoted to shift supervisor, and her peers nominated her as Partner of the Quarter. Next month she’ll transfer to a new Starbucks location in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood where onsite training through local nonprofit agencies will be offered to Opportunity Youth.

“I’m continuing to find that this opportunity is still leaving me surprised at what I’m experiencing,” said Johnson. “I just love the fact that the Englewood store is giving back to the community and a company like this is actually giving it exposure.”

LaFlech has bittersweet feelings about Johnson’s move but said her thriving protégé and others like her have made her approach her job differently.

“The 15 Opportunity Youth I trained at my store changed the way that I do things,” she said. “It changed the way that I interview. It changed the way I look at applications. It’s changed everything for me as a manager.”

Martin Amador, a five-year Starbucks partner and manager of a store in Phoenix that has an in-store training center to help create career pathways for Opportunity Youth, said those partners at his coffeehouse bring with them a deep commitment to their communities.

“Most of my opportunity youth partners are from the neighborhood around here. They grew up a mile or two from the store,” said Amador, who employs two partners hired at the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative Hiring Fair & Forum last fall in Phoenix. He also hired three Opportunity Youth through Arizona Call-A-Teen Youth Resources, Inc., which addresses the education and workforce development needs of young people. “It’s nice to engage with youth who’ve grown up in the area, who know the customers and connect with them. When a 16- or 17-year-old walks into a store and sees someone from their neighborhood at work, they think, ‘That’s something I can do.’”

Jason Lewis, a 13-year Starbucks partner recently promoted to district manager after managing a number of stores in Chicago, also participated in last year’s job fair and has worked with a number of Opportunity Youth hires. Like LaFlech, he’s found that Opportunity Youth bring something special to their Starbucks stores.

“There’s a lot of gratitude and respect for having the job,” he said. “They just needed an opportunity. The skills are there and the dedication to work is there.”

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