Training to Prepare and Retain Opportunity Youth

A combination of “bootcamp-style” training, foundational, one-on-one support from professional mentors, and data-driven methodology are features of nonprofit Generation USA’s practices to train individuals who are currently neither in school nor gainfully employed.

With the national unemployment rate at record highs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports often fail to mention another large population segment that remains unemployed or underemployed. This group, called “opportunity youth,” includes 6.7 million young people who are currently neither in school nor gainfully employed. These youth face a lifetime of lower earnings and financial instability, which also negatively impacts their families and communities. At the same time, the growth of the economy and individual businesses as the country starts to emerge from lockdown may be threatened if companies can’t find and keep viable employees.

Dedicated to preparing opportunity youth for the workforce, Generation USA is an independent nonprofit organization launched in 2014 by McKinsey & Company. To supply employers with a pipeline of motivated talent while increasing diversity in the workforce, Generation uses impact hiring, a data-driven approach. A combination of “bootcamp-style” training, foundational, one-on-one support from professional mentors, and data-driven methodology are features of the organization’s practices. 

Currently, Generation USA offers training and employment programs across 13 U.S. cities with 800-plus partners—delivered free of charge to eligible applicants. With more than 3,000 graduates, 74 percent of students attain employment within three months of finishing the training. Graduates achieve a two- to three-times increase in wages post-graduation, as well as reporting higher well-being than their peers. And at the core of this success rate is training.

Our research has determined that recruiting, onboarding, and training comprise nearly 40 percent of cost per hire. However, turnover leading to loss of productivity can contribute to more than 50 percent of total cost per hire. 

A major stumbling block for employers is uncertainty or objective lack of evidence of a positive return on investment. We strive to demonstrate to employers that with a fresh approach to training individuals, they can see a significant increase in ROI associated with recruiting and turnover, along with higher quality and productivity work outcomes. The learners who are recruited into these programs also see a tangible return on their investment of time and effort, with technical and life skills learned, as well as job opportunities.

The “Bootcamp” Approach: Training, Support, Data

An integrated five- to 12-week work readiness training with additional social supports serves as the model for our “bootcamp” training approach. This shorter, intensive-style training has been found to be optimal for two major reasons. First, young adults learn best in an immersive environment. Second, opportunity youth often face obstacles to longer programs, due to financial, familial, and societal pressures. Through research, as well as field experience, we have determined that five to 12 weeks is the right length, with more than 70 percent of the program time devoted to real-life practice sessions. 

These sessions build skills through the cycle of mastery and significant practice:

  • Integrating different types of skills
  • Real-job scenarios, simulations, labs, and field experiences
  • Actionable peer and instructor feedback

The training focuses on the repeated practice of the most important activities of the target profession—what we call “breakdown moments.” Relevant technical, behavioral, and mindset skills are integrated into every program module every day. We first identify the activities that drive job performance, and then systematically distill the underlying relevant skills. 

These three types of skills are emphasized:

  • Four universal mindsets necessary for success in any workplace: personal responsibility, future orientation (anticipating future/planning ahead), growth mindset, and persistence.
  • Tailored behavioral skills that target the soft skills needed for success in the role, e.g., adaptability, customer focus, proactiveness.
  • Core technical skills required for success on day one and the ensuing path to promotion, customized for the role and even further for the employer partner.

It’s important to acknowledge that no student exists in a vacuum—outside pressures must be addressed. That is why we consider it a critical component of training to provide social supports such as transportation assistance, access to childcare, and stipends. The goal is to alleviate stressors so that learners can focus on learning.

Collecting and utilizing data is at the heart of our model. We track data throughout the training and use it to develop insights into the effectiveness of the program and improve outcomes. For instance, if we learn that there is a week three slump across various programs and geographies as students settle into the program, we introduce a set of mitigating interventions. We also experiment with different “dosages” of technical, behavioral, and mindset skills to understand how to most effectively accelerate student learning. 

Flexibility and fluidity are essential for any training program, especially when working with opportunity youth. By using these training strategies, employers can open up a new conduit of well-prepared workers who will serve as motivated long-term employees. The training sets the stage for keeping companies and the economy strong while engaging opportunity youth in sustainable careers. 

As one Generation USA partner said, “We know when we interview people from Generation that they’ve already gone through training. They’ve got some basic things down that we’re going to need. That makes it a whole lot easier for us.”

Sean Segal is the Chief Executive Officer for Generation USA. In this role, he oversees programs across 13 cities serving more than 3,000 participants in four sectors: technology, healthcare, skilled trades, and customer service. Driven by a mission to empower young people to build thriving, sustainable careers, Generation is an independent nonprofit organization launched in 2014 by McKinsey & Company that provides employers with a pipeline of highly skilled, motivated talent. For more information, visit:



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