Denver Businesses Discover the Value of Opportunity Youth

Would you let a teenager design your company’s new logo?

When the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce took on the Denver Opportunity Youth Initiative to connect businesses with opportunity youth, we knew that internships and experiential learning opportunities would help students and employers think differently about how we learn and how Colorado builds its talent pipeline.

Businesses need to be willing to open their doors for young people to develop talent. Partnerships are critical, and it only takes one business to make a difference for one youth. This is a critical time: with projections of 74 percent of Colorado jobs requiring some sort of education after high school, the Chamber and its partner organizations agreed that opportunity youth – youth aged 16 to 24 who are disconnected from education or work – are an important part of the region’s talent pipeline development. There are nearly 10,000 of these youth in Denver alone, or 13 percent of this age group.

As we started this work, we partnered with Rassman Design to give an opportunity youth the chance to design the initiative’s brand and logo. Vista Academy student Nohemi Acosta saw the process, from hand-drawings to using design programs and presenting the final product, giving her insight into the life of a designer and the business community. Rassman Design also came away with a unique perspective on the potential of an untapped youth.

Here are three things employers should strive for when working with youth:

Open the Door

From job shadows to internships, there are many ways businesses of all sizes can engage with young people.

“I think that there is a huge barrier where the kids don’t have the opportunity to see what is like behind a business door,” said Rassman Design creative director John Rassman. “There are multiple paths to [success] and I wanted someone like Nohemi to realize that it doesn’t have to be about this huge financial commitment to get to where you want to be”.

Let Students Make Mistakes

It’s a learning opportunity, so give them a chance to really take a project on.

“At first [the internship] was mind boggling. It was frustrating because I hadn’t done anything like this before, but it changed with the days,” Acosta said. “I started to get more of the hang of it using all of the tools, and becoming more comfortable with the [design programs].”

In a matter of weeks, Acosta was creating and editing the logo in Adobe Illustrator.

“I think you forget sometimes when you are working with a student how much opportunity there is,” Rassman said. “You do this for a number of years and you start getting jaded with the repetitiveness of it and forget what is like to be in it. I think that is what is nice about working with a student, it reminds you of that.”

Take Time

To provide value for the youth and the business, an internship takes time and commitment from both parties.

“It takes a fair amount of commitment in terms of someone being able to give it the time,” Rassman said. “That’s the thing for us that is a little bit difficult because there are only five of us and someone has got to block out that time … But then she said to me, do you mind if I take this home to work on it? That sort of question is what makes this great.”

Like Rassman Design, many other companies that partner with local organizations to access opportunity youth are often impressed by the dedication and energy that they bring to the workplace. Every business can take action to create opportunities like this and tap into a new source of talent; they just need to open their doors to opportunity youth and provide them with the chance to learn beyond the classroom.

Click here to read more about the power of an internship had on one student, and to learn more the Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative or to find out how your business can get involved, click here or email Lorena Marquez Zimmer.

Lorena Zimmer is the talent pipeline director for the Denver Metro Chamber. 

This post was originally published on Forbes.com, Grads of LifeVoice. Click here to view it.

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