From Career Roulette to Career Pathways: Expanding Access to Opportunity for Young Adults

Manager, Impact – Strategic Partnerships at LeadersUpDevon Miner, Manager, Impact – Strategic Partnerships, LeadersUp


Today there appears to be an expectation that a young adult, even as young as 17, should be able to make decisions that will impact the trajectory of their entire professional life. With limited knowledge, minimal career exposure, and little practical experience in business or industry, young adults are expected to carry the elusive and heavy burden of having their academic and professional lives figured out. Kind of scary, right?


While past generations have taken this risk head-on, the implications of career roulette are currently a lot more aggravating for Millennials and Generation Z or Post-Millennials. Just as they begin to lay the foundation for adult lives, many have accumulated mountains of debt; Student Loan Hero reports that after attending post-secondary institutions, 44.2 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.45 trillion, and many are unable to finish school due to their mounting financial obligations. Meet Jada, who attended Southern Illinois University for a semester and a half and was forced to drop out due to financial struggles. The 21-year-old had to quickly find a job and start paying off the debt she accrued in a short amount of time.


Many other young adults finish school and struggle to find full-time employment, hopping from part-time jobs and temporary positions in order to make ends meet. Meet Emmanuel, a recent graduate of Hampton University in Virginia. For over a year, Emmanuel was seeking work but remained unemployed. He accepted occasional photography opportunities as they became available, but he still lacked a profession with a consistent income that would allow him to sustain a basic quality of life. Later, he returned home to Los Angeles, where he could get some support and lower his expenses.


Tilting the Life Trajectory Toward Opportunity

As a talent development intermediary focused on ending youth unemployment, we know that Jada and Emmanuel are not unlike the other 10,000+ young adults from Chicago to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area that LeadersUp has served over the past few years. So we are happy to report that Jada and Emmanuel recently joined their peers and participated in Winning in the Workplace trainings hosted by LeadersUp. These training experiences helped them build resumes, practice interviewing skills, improve communication techniques, and taught them about the value of teamwork—all focused on increasing their chances of landing a job with an employer partner. Jada and Emmanuel spoke to us about their transformative experiences with LeadersUp. Emmanuel said, “I honestly expected the training to be boring and cookie cutter. It was anything but. I was engaged and challenged to improve myself, not to just get a job, but in order to make holistic changes to my lifestyle. My expectations were greatly exceeded.”


The Future at Work

In 2016, Jada was hired by C.H. Robinson, a leading third-party logistics company located in Chicago. Through her hard work and continued participation with LeadersUp, Jada was not only promoted from an information specialist up to an operations representative, but also received a 40% pay increase above her starting salary. She is now enrolled at Olive Harvey Community College where she is studying to earn a certificate that will help advance her career.


Jada told us, “My experience balancing school and work has had its ups and downs, and sometimes I’m extremely tired, but what makes it all worth it is my goal to gain my degree and succeed in my personal dreams.” Jada is not alone juggling work and school attendance. In fact, between 70 and 80 percent of college students are working while taking classes, and about 40 percent of undergraduate students work at least 30 hours per week.


Out on the West Coast, Emmanuel was hired at Nordstrom in Los Angeles, part of a luxury department store chain with a huge shoe department. Emmanuel started as a shoe salesman and quickly moved up the ladder to lead shoe specialist, and now earns 20% more than his initial salary. He is also taking on additional job responsibilities at Nordstrom through his internship with LeadersUp. Emmanuel said, “I’ve honestly felt inadequate in intellectual environments since I left school, and they [LeadersUp] gave me the chance to work in an intellectual environment where I didn’t feel judged or lesser than. I needed that more than anything.”


The LeadersUp Model

  • Provides young adults with a set of transferable skills
  • Connects rising professionals to career opportunities
  • Minimizes the likelihood of job turnover
  • Helps young adults avoid the accrual of unnecessary debt
  • Gives young adults a platform to grow their careers and live a heightened quality of life


Visit to learn more about the organization and upcoming trainings for career opportunities.

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