Abby Rogers

Young people might not be losing in the job market for lack of trying. The system might just be failing them.

“A barrier today is the rigid ideology of our public discourse,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League said. Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans and Louisiana State Senator, was one of many leaders to speak Friday at Generation Jobless, a conference devoted to exploring the crippling unemployment crisis affecting younger members of the workforce.

Every panel of the day touched on the idea that the established system in America, and the world at large, just wasn’t set up to help today’s young jobseekers. It’s too antiquated to address the numerous—and we mean numerous, based on what the speakers discussed—roadblocks millennials face when entering the job market, including an education system that fails to prepare them for life after school, a job market that hasn’t caught up to the economic recovery and a government and business community that is so mired in the past it doesn’t understand millennials’ unique skill set.

“As we’re slowly climbing out of this recession, the youth employment numbers everywhere are continuing to move in the wrong direction,” Amy Rosen, CEO and president of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship said. “We are largely teaching young people the way we did when I went to school and I’m really old. “

Quite a few panelist proposed completely revamping the way America does high school, including offering a paid work experience course where students receive both a grade and pay for working. The course would require students to dress a certain way, comport themselves in a certain way and behave in a professional way.

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“We have to be willing to think in a different way,” Morial said.

(Image: Jim Avila, Jamira Burley and Andrew Moore; Image credit: Abby Rogers)

Andrew Moore, with the National League of Cities, stressed during a panel about what City Hall can do to help millennials, moderated by ABC and Fusion’s Jim Avila, that there needs to be a way to integrate work experience into the high school curriculum.

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It’s hard to foster creatively in disenfranchised young people when we’re forcing them to learn in “classrooms that look like our parents’” Jamira Burley, the executive director for the youth commission in Philadelphia said during the same panel.

The idea was a popular one. None of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship high schools are run like traditional schools, Rosen said earlier in the day. Rather, students are invested with a sense of ownership over their future.

That sense of ownership “as giving these young people a sense that if they take control they can actually have a chance to be successful” can be a powerful thing, Rosen said.

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The problem of changing the system goes beyond the schoolyard however.

“Cities need to have an active and well-functioning expungement system so young people’s records are not holding them back,” according to Moore.

Panels discussed changing the way businesses view young workers and teaching young workers both the hard skills, like literacy and numeracy, they’ll need for the work force, as well as the oft-overlooked soft skills, like delaying gratification and showing up on time.

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“The question is really not only how can you train young people but train adults in order to make sure that young people are actually gaining something,” Burley said.

But there are ways for big businesses to buck the system. They just have to be willing to do it. And to take the criticism that comes with it. Starbucks initially received quite a bit of resistance from the thousands of companies in its supply chain when it suggested they all work together to train and employ the country’s disengaged youth, according to Starbucks Chief Community Officer Blair Taylor.

But eventually the company’s LeadersUp initiative, which guides unemployed young people through 10 weeks of soft skills training, produced some of the best workers companies in Starbucks’ supply chain had ever seen.

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“It’s really for us about using our scale as a force for good,” Taylor said.\

The one question asked at the end of the first panel placed responsibility for millennial unemployment back on the public sector, asking what can be done to hold government accountable for the current crisis.

“Government has a very important role. It’s not singular though,” Morial said, adding that government and the private sector need to work together.

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However, Morial noted that in the last 12 months there hasn’t been one congressional hearing on youth joblessness, not one day for young workers to speak publicly with their representatives about their economic situation.

“We have to elevate this issue as a national priority. It ought to be right up there at the top,” he said. “All too often it is a second or third-level priority”

Abby Rogers is a feminist who is completely content being a crazy cat lady. She reads everything, but only in real book form — no e-readers thank you very much.