Behind a Push on Youth Jobs: A Rising Philanthropist and New Approach to Equity

A group of U.S. employers has formed to address the youth employment crisis, which has grown in recent years, leaving more young people alarmingly disconnnected from the work force. The goal of this endeavor is to put at least 100,000 "Opportunity Youth"—marginalized 16 to 24 year olds—on pathways to meaningful work by 2018. Starbucks, with a workforce that is 80 percent millenials, is playing a lead role, and its CEO, Howard Schultz, has been a catalyzing force here. 

We're betting this initiative will go down better than Starbucks' recent push to get people talking about race. 

But before saying more about the initiative itself, let's keep the spotlight on Schultz for a moment, who's worth $2.5 billion and who is, along with his wife Sheri, an increasingly active philanthropist—one with a keen eye on leveraging the powerful Starbucks brand behind his concerns.

As we reported last year, the Schultz Family Foundation has been ramping up lately, hiring staff and making some major moves, most notably committing $30 million to help veterans. Its other major focus area is youth, which explains where this latest big step comes from; the foundation has already built partnerships and a record in this space. Sheri Schultz has said regarding the foundation's youth work: "Our mission is to identify and empower young people whose fate can have a ripple effect on our communities and our nation as a whole." The foundation is also laying out $30 million for this new initiative. 

Related: Where Is That Starbucks Fortune Going to Go? Clues Are Coming In

The initiative has a lot of moving parts. Beyond Starbucks, the companies involved include Alaska Airlines, Cintas, CVS Health, Hilton Worldwide, HMSHost, JCPenney, JPMorgan Chase, Lyft, Macy’s, Microsoft,, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Taco Bell, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

Starbucks is angling for 10,000 new hires in the next three years in its own workforce of Opportunity Youth. Each new hire will be eligible to participate in the company’s full slate of benefits, including the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which offers full tuition reimbursement for an online bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University.

Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and YouthBuild USA have also launched the Customer Service Excellence Training (CSET) program, which gives students an opportunity to learn customer service skills similar to the program provided by Starbucks stores through on-the-job and classroom training.  

To kick things off, this new initiative will host a big hiring shindig in Chicago on August 13th—the Opportunity Fair and Forum. Participating companies are planning to collectively train more than 2,000 youth at this event and make at least 200 on-the-spot job offers, injecting the Chicago business community with fresh talent and energy. 

Over the next 30 days leading up to the Opportunity Fair, new companies are welcome to join this commitment to hiring Opportunity Youth. The inaugural event in Chicago is meant to catalyze other events across the country that will collectively contribute to the goal of engaging 100,000 youth by 2018.

The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, working with LeadersUp, will serve as an aggregator and intermediary for the initial event in Chicago. The Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions will also be involved in this new initiative, acting as intermediary and building upon the existing work of its national Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, which currently supports collaborative efforts focused on Opportunity Youth in 21 communities around the country. 

The Aspen Institute will provide direct leadership, technical assistance, and programmatic support to launch the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative in several cities. Beyond the Schultz Family Foundation, funders participating in the initiative include the Joyce, MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Kellogg foundations, as well as the foundations of JPMorgan Chase and Walmart. 

This initiative will draw from a diverse array of community-based resources in order to provide "on-the-spot mentorship and feedback, mock interviews and skills training for job readiness, college prep, volunteer opportunities and internships."

All this recalls the way that philanthropy has teamed up with the private sector to address the needs of veterans, and it's interesting to watch these muscular but complicated partnerships take shape. 

Expect more such partnerships in the future. We wrote recently about how the Rockefeller Foundation aims to create a more inclusive economy by pushing employers to change how they treat workers, believing that its impact is greater than many other strategies to promote opportunity and equity. This new initiative underscores the receptivity to that approach among top corporations.

Related: To Create an Inclusive Economy, Rockefeller Coaxes Business To Change How It Thinks

Clearly, Howard Schultz is not the only CEO worried about the fate of America young workers in today's economy. Now if only some of the other companies involved in this effort would provide better pay and benefits. After all, a big reason why so many young people get turned off by work is that they suspect, not without reason, that they'll never be able to earn a living from many of the jobs available today, especially in the retail and restaurant sectors.