World Youth Skills Day -- which takes place every July -- harbors a dirty little secret: Even in times of tight employment in the U.S., millions of youth, largely of color, remain disconnected from jobs, let alone career opportunities.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, overall unemployment hovered around 4 percent, but 11.2 percent of young people aged 16-24 were out of school and out of work. Among these, Native American youth had a disconnection rate of 23.4 percent, Black teens and young adults, 17.4 percent, and Latinx 12.8 percent. With the advent of pandemic, experts predict spikes across all segments.

For donors interested in advancing racial equity and economic mobility, investing in creating quality career paths for young people of color can yield high returns -- from reducing crime to breaking the cycle of poverty.

One effective way to broaden these pathways calls for influencing hiring and training practices at corporations. A second, deepens pools of capital for young entrepreneurs of color to start their own businesses. In both cases, high quality nonprofit intermediaries can channel donor dollars to combat bias in the system.

Organizations like Code 2040, Year Up, and LeadersUp are targeting sectors and companies that have been engines of wealth creation in the 21st century, with low inclusion of people of color: Technology, financial services, and the Fortune 500.

Code 2040 (named for the year that the U.S. is to become majority minority) is focused on creating opportunities in technology. The most recent National Science Foundation data shows 10 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to Latinx, and 9 percent to Black candidates. But the Center for Employment Equity, which gathers data on race, gender and sexual orientation from 177 top Silicon Valley firms, finds only 5 percent of professionals employed are Latinx and less than 3% Black. Said Code 2040 CEO Karla Monterosso, “Imagine the student has worked their tail off. They have been one of very few people of color in their computer science program, and then they get to the job market and cannot penetrate it.”

To remedy this, Code 2040 is working with more than 100 companies, including Medium, Zillow, and DoorDash, to reinvent hiring protocols and break down barriers to career advancement from the ground up. They are throwing out filters that limit career entry for candidates of color, for example selecting for Ivy League and top engineering institutions and shutting out Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs) and Highly Hispanic institutions (HHEs). Said Code 2040 cofounder Laura Weidman Powers, “We found that policy and procedures at the companies themselves were the sticking point, because they were using a lot of proxies and shortcuts to judge talent … creating a misleading picture of who was capable.”

They replace racially biased practices with processes to hire for native intelligence and problem solving – core assets of good software engineers. And they place hundreds of trained Code 2040 fellows in companies, who can advocate for change from the inside. They become what Weidman Powers calls “an army of folks equipped to survive and thrive and demand change.” Indeed, one Code 2040 hire saw that other interns of color didn’t have a clear route to convert to full time. “So she marched into HR and demanded they change their intake pathways,” said Weidman Powers.

Year Up trains young adults (ages 18-24, without college degrees) and provides them with internships at a range of corporate partners, the majority in finance and technology, helping them launch meaningful careers in a single year. Its community college-based sites allow students to work towards a degree while participating in the program. And it scales demand by influencing hiring practices at companies through an affiliate nonprofit, Grads of Life. Meanwhile, LeadersUp is both influencing hiring practices across the Fortune 500, including companies like J.P. Morgan Chase and FedEx, and training young people of color for their talent pipelines, through a program called EVOLVE. Said CEO Jeffery Wallace in an interview, “We offer a professional development series that helps employers evolve their culture from the inside out in the way they recruit, retain and advance talent.” EVOLVE includes training managers in coaching and building affinity groups.  Said Wallace, “We are helping employers understand that diversity is an asset; inclusion is a strategy; and equity is a result.” But, he also emphasized, inclusion has to be built through intentional leadership and corporate values. “There needs to be [an initiative] across every business unit that tracks how inclusion is playing out.”

Weidman Powers, cofounder of Code 2040, now heads up strategy at Echoing Green, a nonprofit that provides seed funding, leadership development, and an ecosystem of support for entrepreneurs working at the intersection of social justice and social innovation. Echoing Green is a leader in a movement to broaden career pathways for people of color through entrepreneurial skilling and financing. Weidman Powers cites a number of peer funds like Black and Brown Founders, which provides modest resourcing and bootstrapping boot camps, Camelback Ventures, which funds and trains entrepreneurs of color and New Media Ventures which invests in social entrepreneurs and activists from underrepresented backgrounds.

“I would really advocate for donors unfamiliar with the space to fund [these] intermediaries,” said Weidman Powers. Sounds like an apt resolution for World Youth Skills Day and a good building block for sustainable development goal No. 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.


By Katie Smith Milway, principal of nonprofit and philanthropy advisor Milway Consulting and a columnist for Giving Compass on sustainable development. Follow her @KatieSMilway.