Creating the best workforce of tomorrow

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 03:05 PM

Durham is no different from any other part of the world where youth are struggling to find employment and “their way” in life. Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum annual meeting, youth unemployment was one of the central concerns of top corporate CEOs. Why? Because the latest statistics show that half of the world’s youth are unemployed, underemployed or not engaged in the workforce.

There are a few problems we can identify that are closely linked: the skills gap that occurs when there is a lack of work-relevant education and skills as well as workers’ lack of “soft skills,” such as communication and time management, which are keys to success in the workplace.

We are trying to address these problems in Durham, and the complexity of this crisis requires an approach that links the resources and strengths of the private, public and education sectors.

The private sector has the most to gain from a young, skilled and motivated workforce. The Durham YouthWork Internship Program, formerly known as the Mayor’s Summer Youth Program, has undergone a transformation in response to the rising crisis in the workplace. In partnership with Durham Public Schools, we have established a week-long “soft skills” curriculum to better prepare Durham youth to be job-ready when they show up at their internships. 

However, while a handful of private-sector businesses have stepped up to the plate and hired several young people, real change can only come about when more businesses play an essential role in ensuring that young people with no experience have a way into the job market and receive on-the-job support that is needed as they begin their careers.   

Sustained high rates of youth unemployment, and the resulting lack of disposable income, threaten to completely transform the markets for companies today. Youth without jobs ultimately means young adults without income, which affects every industry in our community. On the flip side, by making the commitment to hire young people, companies can help create the conditions for vibrant economies sustained by a new generation of consumers. 

It is often a challenge for businesses to consider the workforce of tomorrow and what they can do to improve their bottom lines, while bettering our community. The Durham YouthWork Internship Program is a way to meet that dual challenge.

Bring a youth into your workspace and show them not only what kind of work you do, but also how to be excellent at doing it. If you work in a company that provides that first experience of what it is to work as a youth, you have the opportunity to imprint your joy, your hard work and your intelligence on our next generation. You also have the opportunity to mold what could be your own future workforce. If you take the opportunity to influence and inspire our next generation, you can light the way, not with fancy speeches, but by your example.  

The Durham YouthWork Internship Program is designed to provide opportunities for youth to be exposed to real-world labor expectations, career instruction, financial literacy training, and social growth. Participate in the Durham YouthWork Internship Program by bringing a youth, aged 14-22, into your workspace for six-to-eight weeks or longer and put them to work. To get involved, visit or contact James Dickens at (919) 560-4965, ext. 15217.

We ask you to show them the ropes, lead by example, set high expectations and demand the best. This is what our youth need now in order to be the best workforce of tomorrow. 

Steven Williams, North American traffic and logistics manager for Sensus USA Inc., is chairman of the Durham Workforce Development Board. Kevin Dick is executive director of the Durham Workforce Development Board  and board chairman for the New Horizons Character and Leadership Academy.