By Katie Keith
Every month this year, the unemployment rate for young adults aged 18 to 34 has been higher than for adults overall. It’s not for lack of trying. Millennials are pursuing higher education degrees in greater droves than any previous generation, yet college graduates face significant gaps in job readiness.
There are steps we must take to better set our generation up for the workforce. An easy one? Investing in national service programs, which have a proven track record of providing training and marketable skills.
National service also produces significant economic, civil, and social capital: every dollar spent yields nearly $2.50 in benefits as participants obtain valuable skills, become more engaged in their community, and progress further in their education.
Unfortunately, demand outpaces the supply of national service positions. In 2014, for example, AmeriCorps received hundreds of thousands of applications but funded fewer than 80,000 positions. With much to gain from these programs, we continue to push Congress to support national service programs like AmeriCorps and work with partner organizations like ServiceNation to expand national service opportunities.
Congress isn’t the only entity that can work to invest more in our generation’s future, however. Key stakeholders, such as employers and universities, are increasingly focused on ways to leverage the value of national service.
The Employers of National Service initiative, for example, builds a talent pipeline to help leading employers connect directly with highly qualified AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni. Employers such as Comcast, Disney, and a variety of federal agencies and nonprofits have already committed to the initiative by adopting policies that emphasize the skills of national service alumni.
Colleges are also stepping up to design and implement new college-based service programs connected to academic credit. As part of last week’s celebration of National Volunteer Week, for example, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Franklin Project, the Lumina Foundation, and the National Conference on Citizenship partnered on the first Service Year + Higher Education: Innovation Challenge Pitch Day.
The event celebrated finalists from nine universities who—in addition to written proposals—competed head-to-head with dueling pitches designed to persuade national leaders to award their project with $30,000 to implement their ideas (read more about the three winners—Drake University, Miami Dade College, and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth—here).
We know more must be done to address youth unemployment, help build job skills, and serve our communities. In addition to expanding programs like AmeriCorps, college-based service programs and employer pipelines are welcome mechanisms to help fill the gaps that young adults face. We hope to see additional innovative partnerships amongst universities, employers, government officials, funders, and students to build the infrastructure we need to reap the benefits of national service.