Flor Alejo is 25 years old and slightly nervous. She lives in Koreatown with her mother and younger sister. On this morning, June 20, 2017, she put on her best suit and left the house early so she could arrive on time for the start of the Net Opportunity Career Expo in Los Angeles. Walking up the stairs of landmark Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California, Flor saw hundreds of fellow job seekers waiting in line for their chance to enter the Galen Center and get a new start on their own career journey. She could hardly wait to walk through that door.
Just four years ago, the thought of being nervous about a job interview would have been a welcome challenge—instead of having to face the reality of undergoing brain surgery. Flor has had epilepsy her whole life. In 2013 she had a serious operation to help limit her seizures. “It was difficult growing up with this because it made me feel like a target. It gave people another reason to look down on me,” shared Flor. But now, four years later, she’s standing in line with a firm resolve to start her career. This marks a milestone moment for Flor. Attending the the Net Opportunity Career Expo and having an opportunity to meet face-to-face with employers means almost as much as getting a job. This was a reminder that Flor, like many who live in Los Angeles, has an unbreakable resiliency and willingness to positively define her own life.
Growing across generations, the rising rate of youth disconnection is at a crisis point. The unemployment rate in South Los Angeles is 39% higher than the national average. This leads to a staggering $519 million loss in net economic potential. On June 20, 2017, LeadersUp—in cooperation with the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, the University of Southern California Office of Civic Engagement, and local partners—hosted the Net Opportunity Career Expo. This event was special because it marked the first time LeadersUp expanded our career readiness trainings to include Opportunity Youth and job seekers of all ages; and it supported the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative’s goal to connect 1 million Opportunity Youth to career pathways across the nation. Check out the key stats from this transformative event and day of impact:
Flor left the Net Opportunity Career Expo with a smile of accomplishment—and two job offers. She told us, “I got offers from Starbucks and U.S. Bank! I came in looking for something better. Now I know that I am capable of something better, because I was able to get an offer at one of the most competitive banks in the nation.” Flor hopes to start her own nonprofit in the future to be able to reciprocate the support she received in one of her most challenging life moments.
As a Los Angeles resident and proud California native, I see stark differences in the prosperity and potential of the diverse, multiethnic communities that call Los Angeles home. Despite the many distinctions that make Los Angeles unique—its limitless innovation, 224 spoken languages, a cultural mecca and serving as the entertainment capital of the world—many neighborhoods remain divided by more than nationality, income, and religious affiliation. Access to opportunity appears to be sequestered into specific zip codes, and that lack of access segregates many young adults who are unemployed and not in school from their more successful peers. The Net Opportunity Career Expo was just the beginning. This event provided a spark of possibility that can only come from authentic collaboration between employers, community partners, educational institutions, and advocates for positive change.
I invite you to help us build this spark into a beaming light of opportunity for the unemployed in South Los Angeles and communities throughout the entire region. Join our movement by becoming an employer partner, volunteer or joining our talent development network, click the button below to get started. Check out the Los Angeles Sentinel article to learn more about the Net Opportunity Career Expo.
President & CEO, LeadersUp