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Tackling Youth Unemployment

How is it that a large food processing company has trouble filling entry level roles when youth unemployment in the region is high? Is the company not recruiting well? Are local youths not interested in working?

This is a real situation and the answers to these questions aren’t straight forward. Many of the youths come from difficult backgrounds, where 3, 4 or 5 generations of the same family have never had a job; or where there is domestic violence, neglect, substance abuse or a cocktail of factors at play.

Also, in the job market, entry level roles aren’t perceived as being anyone’s dream job.

The Challenge

To tackle this problem, businesses need to work effectively with social sector and government partners. This process also has its challenges, especially when:

  • The people and organisations involved speak different ‘languages’ and have vastly different work cultures
  • They all have their own objectives, day-to-day pressures and funding constraints; and
  • It’s difficult moving complex, cross-sector projects along at a reasonable speed.

To many people this might sound ripe for a collective impact approach, however the timelines involved tend to exceed the practical boundaries that real people in real organisations have to live with. As an alternative – provided there is an underlying tangible business problem – a shared value or win-win approach can deliver results on much shorter timelines.

How Can You Drive Success?

There has been good learning from a regional project that I’m currently coordinating and it can be applied to similar projects. We’ve focused on getting the foundations right, and it’s worth reflecting on 9 of the factors driving this positive momentum:

  1. Clarifying business drivers – if the opportunity is meaningful the business will invest time and resources; in this case, excessive employee turnover is the problem being addressed.
  2. Framing what is possible – introductory forums and events help to paint a positive picture about the possibilities.
  3. Finding the right tempo – not everyone moves at the same speed so you need to find the speed that works for all.
  4. Invoking self selection – don’t invite everyone to table or you’ll get bogged down; give participants a small challenge or chance to show they want to be involved.
  5. Building understanding – create plenty of opportunities for perspectives to be shared in a ‘safe’ setting.
  6. Gaining client insight – storytellers make a big difference; finding the right people is more important than their storytelling prowess.
  7. Visualising success – keep an open mind about success indicators until everyone’s had a chance to present their view.
  8. Local leadership – your project team needs regional representatives who (a) give a damn, and (b) know the landscape well.
  9. Run a lean team – the project team needs to be flexible and adaptable in order to keep moving forward.

Some projects come together very quickly and easily and others require a lot of foundational work. You will need to make an initial assessment about your project dynamics by holding consultation-style meetings.

Avoiding Inertia

When projects involve more than a dozen partners, too often I’ve seen them grind to a halt. A lot of things need to go right for them to work and, conversely, a couple of small things going wrong can derail them and end up wasting everyone’s goodwill and time.

Maker sure you check in with the success factors listed above if you are embarking on a similar journey.


Phil Preston is a shared value expert, who empowers people, businesses and organisations to make an extraordinary difference in the world. He can be reached via


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