The Importance of Young Workers' Voices in the Labor Market

Posted April 16, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young Black woman wears a yellow safety vest, yellow earphones/ear protectors and a yellow hardhat. She smiles as she holds a clipboard in front a blue factory wall.

To attract and retain an evolv­ing work­force, employ­ers must bet­ter under­stand what mat­ters most to young work­ers. This means lis­ten­ing to their expe­ri­ences, what they want at work, how work­force pro­grams and sys­tems cur­rent­ly sup­port them and where there may be room for improve­ment. This kind of direct input and per­spec­tive is often referred to as work­er voice.”

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion aims to under­stand how work­force orga­ni­za­tions, employ­ers, advo­cates and pol­i­cy­mak­ers can pro­mote the voic­es of young work­ers and craft work­place strate­gies that meet their needs. It part­ners with sev­er­al orga­ni­za­tions in this work, including:

As we gain a bet­ter appre­ci­a­tion of what mat­ters to young adults enter­ing the labor mar­ket, we can work with employ­ers and work­force prac­ti­tion­ers to incor­po­rate young work­er voice into hir­ing and reten­tion prac­tices,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, direc­tor of Employ­ment, Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing at Casey.

Resources on Work­er Voice

Exam­in­ing the Expe­ri­ences of Young Workers

Research released by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego School of Glob­al Pol­i­cy and Strat­e­gy through WERN details find­ings from a sur­vey of front­line work­ers — under the age of 30 — who were in health care, hos­pi­tal­i­ty, retail, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and ware­house jobs. The find­ings include:

  • Young work­ers don’t have a space to give input. Most of the young adults sur­veyed report­ed lim­it­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties to share their per­spec­tives on work­place practices.
  • Younger work­ers expe­ri­ence more dif­fi­cul­ties at work. This includes sched­ul­ing insta­bil­i­ty and wage theft, which led to reduced job sat­is­fac­tion, increased like­li­hood of quit­ting and increased sup­port for unionization.
  • Inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships at work are equal­ly impor­tant for younger and old­er work­ers. How­ev­er, younger work­ers are more like­ly to turn to friends and co-work­ers and less like­ly to use for­mal chan­nels such as human resources when expe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems at work. By the time employ­ers learn of prob­lems, it may already be too late.

Ele­vat­ing Young Work­er Voice

A prac­ti­cal guide from the Urban Insti­tute offers spe­cif­ic strate­gies, tips and resources to help orga­ni­za­tions sup­port young adults’ tran­si­tion to the work­force and ele­vate youth work­er voice. The guide syn­the­sizes input from 27 experts, offer­ing strate­gies that include:

  • embed­ding young-work­er voice into the prac­tices and oper­a­tions of work­force organizations;
  • build­ing young people’s skills so they can advo­cate for them­selves at work;
  • work­ing with employ­ers to sup­port efforts to engage with and lis­ten to young work­ers; and
  • ele­vat­ing young work­er voice in relat­ed com­mu­ni­ty and pol­i­cy discussions.

Rec­og­niz­ing that young adults are the fastest grow­ing group of work­ers and that employ­ers have a vest­ed inter­est in retain­ing tal­ent, Child Trends released two tip sheets — one for employ­ers and one for young adult work­ers — designed to facil­i­tate con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tions between employ­ers and young adult employ­ees. Both pub­li­ca­tions focus on clear, safe and open com­mu­ni­ca­tions, young people’s role in these con­ver­sa­tions and open­ness to new ideas.

How Pol­i­cy­mak­ers and Advo­cates Can Sup­port Younger Workers

Draw­ing on polling data and inter­views with work­ers, both Strate­gies 360 and CSW released resources that iden­ti­fy pro­gram and pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties to strength­en work­force devel­op­ment sys­tems. Each empha­sizes the impor­tance of cen­ter­ing work­er per­spec­tives in the design of work­force pro­grams and how work­ers’ views enable work­force sys­tems to meet their needs.

CSW’s Work­er-Cen­tered Bench­mark­ing Project focus­es on under­stand­ing com­mu­ni­ties’ inter­ests, rethink­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of work­force pro­gram suc­cess, con­sid­er­ing whether work­force pro­grams are work­ing in local con­texts and mea­sur­ing pro­grams’ impact with­in affect­ed workforces.

Research from an upcom­ing pol­i­cy guide by the Joint Cen­ter revealed young Black work­ers often nav­i­gate per­va­sive anti-Black nar­ra­tives and stereo­types. The guide, Nar­ra­tive Solu­tions for Sup­port­ing Promis­ing Poli­cies for Black Youth Work­ers,” will be released in May. A media scan and focus groups informed its mes­sag­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, which include:

  • Pro­mote sys­tems-lev­el — rather than indi­vid­ual-lev­el — changes
  • Tie pol­i­cy solu­tions to shared pros­per­i­ty, empha­siz­ing how poli­cies empow­er­ing young Black work­ers ben­e­fit every­one; and
  • Include the voic­es of those clos­est to the prob­lem and mak­ing space for young Black work­ers to speak.

A webi­nar on the pol­i­cy guides’ find­ings will be held on Wednes­day, May 22. Reg­is­ter for the webi­nar.

Learn about the Foundation’s com­mit­ment to youth engagement

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