Youth Opportunity Initiative Expands to Nation’s Capital

July 18, 2019

Today, the Youth Opportunity pre-employment initiative expanded to Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County, Maryland after wrapping up its pilot year in Chicago. Created in partnership between McDonald’s and the International Youth Foundation, the initiative aims to reduce the barriers to employment for two million young people by 2025 through pre-employment job readiness training, workplace development, and employment opportunities. 

“To reach our global goal, we set the bar high for the Youth Opportunity initiative pilot year,” said IYF’s President & CEO, Susan Reichle. When the initiative launched last summer, Thrive Chicago reported that there were more than 50,000 “opportunity youth” in Chicago—young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. “At IYF, we know that all young people have potential. Often, all they need to transform their lives is to be connected with the right opportunities,” Reichle added.

Did the pilot year meet expectations set by IYF and McDonald’s? In short—yes. In fact, it exceeded them. 

In Chicago, IYF and McDonald’s partnered with four dedicated community-based organizations with deep regional roots and decades of experience serving young people and their communities: After School Matters, Central States SER, Phalanx Family Services, and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. Below, they provide insight to explain the story of our successful pilot year in greater detail.

Successful partnerships start with a shared vision and a strong commitment. Partnerships between nonprofit organizations and corporations are nothing new, and they are not always as successful as the Youth Opportunity initiative. In part, the success of Youth Opportunity is the result of partners being guided, despite differences, by the same north star of purpose. Building on this alignment, IYF provided local partners with our Passport to Success® (PTS) life skills curriculum, the training needed to implement lessons, and continued support throughout the pilot year.  

"There’s been a big effort from all the partners in the Youth Opportunity initiative—McDonald’s, IYF, and all the CBOs. There’s always compromise and lots of negotiation, but we all believe in the initiative, and we believe in the young people we serve.

— Adrean Vargas, Central States SER

All members of the Youth Opportunity initiative partnership contributed something essential to the mix. Tackling the youth unemployment challenge requires that corporations like McDonald’s—who possess the capacity for impact at scale—lead the charge. Local organization partnerships are essential because they best understand the nuances of the local labor market, the dynamics of the local community, and the needs and aspirations of local young people. Before the pilot year even officially started, IYF and McDonald’s benefitted from the expertise of our community-based partners who informed the logistics of the pilot and helped map out the most critical areas of need—from physical locations to the relevant market skills needed for success. 

"Chicago’s workforce environment is extensive and complicated for a new group to understand. When the team from IYF approached us, it was never, ‘We’re going to tell you how to do things.’ It was, ‘Okay, we’ve had these extraordinary experiences that we think could be beneficial in Chicago, but we recognize we need to get to know Chicago first.’"

—Marie Trzupek Lynch, Skills for Chicagoland’s Future

Youth Opportunity participants are experts about what they need to thrive. Employers across the globe identify “life skills” as the skillset they most desire in employees—the ability to communicate, manage emotions, resolve conflict, problem solve, and work on a team, among other skills. These skills are useful across sectors, and at any stage on the employment journey. According to our local partners—and the young people we serve—the story is much the same in Chicago. As part of the Youth Opportunity initiative, young participants were trained for a minimum of 12 hours (and in some cases 24 and 36 hours) using PTS, IYF’s flagship life skills curriculum.

 "They’re interested in 21st century skills, especially communication. I talked to a group of teens recently … and they said they wanted to learn how to talk to and be in the same space as adults, as peers—or near-peers. This is different than the sort of relationships they have with adults in school.

—Samantha Deane, After School Matters

The Youth Opportunity initiative created opportunities for young people through skills training—and much more. In addition to pre-employment and life skills training, Youth Opportunity initiative participants gained access to a wide variety of employment-oriented events and activities. Many toured the McDonald’s Headquarters, received career advice during interactive panel presentations, visited McDonald’s restaurants to get a glimpse of what the quick-service industry looks like in action, and attended numerous hiring fairs where they received on-site prep and guidance before interviewing for a position. Upon completion of the program, 150 young people were hired by McDonald’s restaurants, while many others secured employment elsewhere. Some, like Youth Opportunity participant, Bryan, are putting their skills to work as entrepreneurs. Bryan, who started a one-man landscaping business, aspires to expand his operations. “I’ve learned how to put myself in other people’s shoes, be compassionate and understanding, positive and productive,” Bryan said. He explained that these skills will be useful in dealing with customers, but also in engaging with employees that he may manage in the future.

 "At first, a lot of our youth are lacking soft skills—making eye contact, shaking hands, showing up on time, and knowing how to manage conflict. These skills make a big difference. Through the partnership with McDonald’s, IYF’s Passport to Success program works.

—Mike Jenkins, Phalanx Family Services

As the Youth Opportunity pre-employment initiative expands our programmatic footprint, IYF and McDonald’s are excited to continue working closely with our Chicago partners, and to begin knocking down barriers to opportunity in the Washington, DC-area with our new D.C. partners: 4-H, Latin American Youth Center, and LAYC Career Academy.

Learn more about the Youth Opportunity DC expansion here and read full interviews with After School MattersCentral States SERPhalanx Family Services, and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future.