Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian joined me yesterday for a conversation with members of the Fortune CEO Initiative about programs to bring struggling young people into the work force. He began by referring to the “fallacy of full employment.” In 11 zip codes in the Chicago area, he said, the unemployment rate is over 10%, and for young people age 16 to 24 in those neighborhoods, it is 20%. “There are two different realities.”
A year ago, Hyatt started a program called RiseHY (pronounced “rise-high”) that sought to bring out-of-school, out-of-work young people into the Hyatt workforce. Hoplamazian felt a targeted workforce initiative would have more “bang for the buck” in community building than many of the education initiatives the company had pursued in the past. Today, he has brought nearly 1,300 “Opportunity Youth” into his work force, and learned some lessons along the way. Among them: the most basic life skill–showing up at work on time–is often the most difficult, in part because people have complicated living arrangements and uneven access to transportation. Another: post-employment support is critical, as people struggle to fit into an unfamiliar work environment.
Hoplamazian believes such efforts are critical, both for his company—it needs a bigger and more diverse pipeline of employees—and for the communities it operates in—they need better pathways to success for the poor and disadvantaged. His final comment: “The thing I would leave people with: there are many things you can be proud of in life, but few things provide as much inspiration and hope for the future as watching one of these young people come into the workforce and achieve success.”
What’s interesting is how is how frequently I find myself in conversations like this these days with corporate leaders who are building similar training and workforce programs across the U.S. If you are looking for clear evidence that the business community is more focused on the needs of society than in the past, this is where you will find it. Something important is afoot.
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