Sector Strategies Could Help Connect Young Talent with Employers’ Human Resource Needs

February 8, 2016

Contact: Claire Daviss

Communications Associate

The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program

202-736-3578 |

Contact: Keri Faulhaber

Director of Strategic Partnerships and Programs


646-738-5675 |

Sector Strategies Could Help Connect Young Talent with Employers’ Human Resource Needs

New report reveals that sector strategies, previously established to benefit adult jobseekers, could help solve the young adult unemployment crisis. 

Washington, DC, February 8, 2016 –– The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program (EOP) and JobsFirstNYC release today a new report entitled, Optimizing Talent: The Promise and the Perils of Adapting Sectoral Strategies for Young Workers, exploring sectoral approaches to workforce development for young workers.

The full report can be found here.

Background on Young Adult Employment and Sector Strategies

The unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year-old young adults with a high school diploma or less is a staggering 35.5 percent — more than five times that of young people with at least a bachelor’s degree, and more than six times the national average. Moreover, many young people without college degrees are severely underemployed. Workers under 30 are more than twice as likely as older workers to be working full-time but living near or below the poverty line.

Efforts to help young people access and complete college are important. But many young people need other options to gain skills and connect to jobs that might lead to economic stability for themselves and their families.

With sectoral approaches now front and center in newly passed WIOA, sector-based strategies are seen as a successful approach to helping low-income jobseekers and workers transition into living-wage careers. These sectoral initiatives foster collaboration among businesses, community-based organizations, unions, community colleges and others, to create strategies that respond to the talent pipeline needs of a specific industry or set of employers. Studies point to the role of sector-focused training programs in helping a range of workers work more and work more consistently, earn higher wages and work in jobs in which they are more likely to be offered benefits. (See Sheila Maguire, Joshua Freely, Carol Clymer, Maureen Conway and Deena Schwartz, Tuning In to Local Labor Markets: Findings from the Sectoral Employment Impact Study, Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures (2010).)

Summary of New Report

Optimizing Talent: The Promise and the Perils of Adapting Sectoral Strategies for Young Workers, the new report from JobsFirstNYC and the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program, highlights national examples of effective sectoral employment programs for youth. It lays out strategies for developing and maintaining strong partnerships among industry experts and youth development practitioners, to boost employment rates among young adults and improve business outcomes. Finally, it details lessons learned from JobsFirstNYC’s Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project (YASEP), a successful, first-of-its-kind pilot to test whether sector strategies could be specifically effective for young adults who are out of school and unemployed.

Drawing on the promising results of several sector-based employment programs for young people throughout the nation, this report explores how:

  1. by expanding and deepening access for young people to sectoral employment initiatives, policymakers and funders can help young people find alternative pathways to jobs, job stability, and advancement;
  2. community-based and young-adult-serving organizations can play a critical role in connecting young people to employment;
  3. collaboration across organizations is essential, and financial incentives to support partnerships must be built into future efforts; and
  4. sectoral strategies can yield even greater gains when they go beyond strategies focused on job placement to partnering with employers to identify ways to improve workers’ conditions while also supporting business success.


“Engaging employers through sectoral strategies has been one of the most important developments in the youth employment field in many years.  This is a win-win for everyone. It enables institutions that serve young adults to work smarter and gives employers access to more productive employees.” —Laurie R. Dien, Vice President of Programs, The Pinkerton Foundation

“Sector strategies hold great promise to engage employers directly—both to access good jobs, and to improve the quality of low-wage, entry-level jobs. This is particularly true for young workers, since most will access their first jobs in industries where ‘raising the floor’ of those jobs can make a significant difference.” –Steve Dawson, Founder, Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute

“Representing a leading employer of younger workers in the retail sector in New York City and beyond, I can share from direct experience that sector strategies, effectively developed and implemented, have had a direct and positive impact on how our business engages with the workforce development field, and as workforce organizations learn to be more responsive to our changing needs, young people’s chances of becoming economically secure will continue to improve.” — Greg Hambric, Regional Recruiter, Modell’s Sporting Goods

JobsFirstNYC is a neutral intermediary and a champion for the workforce needs of out-of-school, out-of-work young adults in New York City. Our mission is to improve the system for young adults by bringing together—effectively and efficiently—all available community, corporate, private and public resources to accelerate the connection of out-of-school, out-of-work young adults with the economic life of New York City. For more information, visit

The Economic Opportunities Program (EOP) is a policy program at the Aspen Institute. Its primary mission is to advance promising strategies and policies to help low- and moderate-income Americans thrive in today’s dynamic economy. Over its more than 20 years of work, EOP has focused on expanding individuals’ opportunities—to invest in their skills and capabilities, to build professional networks and connect to quality work, to start businesses, and to build assets and economic stability. The program’s Workforce Strategies Initiative (AspenWSI) has, for over a decade, led EOP’s work in identifying, evaluating, and promoting promising practices and strategies that help individuals build skills and connect to sustainable employment.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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