It’s no secret that the past year has been filled with unprecedented workplace challenges, as COVID-19 has caused employers and employees across a variety of industries to adapt to new circumstances. For young people who are recently entering the workforce, however, adjusting to new circumstances is a prerequisite—with or without a global pandemic. We reached out to the fall 2020 cohort of Youth Opportunity Ambassadors to get their thoughts on job skills and challenges and to learn how they're preparing for the "next normal" workplace.

Many Youth Opportunity Ambassadors have found it challenging to be taken seriously at work and when applying for jobs. According to the fall 2020 Ambassadors, ranging in ages from 16 to their mid-twenties, employers oftentimes meet young people with skepticism due to their lack of experience and supposed lack of professionalism.

“Being younger in the workforce, especially ages 15-18, you aren’t really seen as someone that is going to come in on time and do what you are supposed to and be a hard worker,” says Stephanie Hodges. Abigail Padilla agrees: “The most difficult part of obtaining employment for youth is not having enough work experience to find a job.”

For Cesar Gutierrez, it’s difficult to pursue the necessary work experience while navigating a busy high school schedule and limited access to transportation. “Jobs aren’t the best when it comes to being flexible with hours especially to a kid who is in multiple different extracurriculars,” Cesar says. And if Cesar were to find a job, the jobs in his area aren’t within walking distance which is challenging since he doesn’t know how to drive. Abigail echoed this sentiment saying, “as an 18 year old that goes to work and school, it can be quite exhausting. It’s also difficult finding transportation. If you have a car, you have to be able to have gas money to travel to work and back home whenever needed, which can be quite expensive.”

This cohort of Youth Opportunity Ambassadors has also found it challenging to secure a job that’s fulfilling. Young people crave foundational jobs that offer a dignified work environment for all employees—including those newer to the workforce. Unfortunately, such jobs can be hard to come by.

“I... want a job that challenges me to grow personally and professionally.” – Abigail

One thing is clear: despite the challenges facing young people today, this cohort of Youth Opportunity Ambassadors remains persistent, determined, and well-equipped to tackle workforce challenges. Effective communication, time management, and the ability to take initiative are among the job skills that have prepared these Ambassadors to thrive in the early stages of their careers.

As Vianey Delgado puts it, “you must be able to communicate effectively, which means talking, listening and writing. What you communicate with your body language is important, too… [And,] when a young person feels confident in their ability to problem solve, they will not shy away from great opportunities simply because they feel intimidated. They can think critically and creatively, contribute ideas, and make decisions… [Additionally, time management] is important because [it] says a lot about a person.”

One thing is clear: despite the challenges facing young people today, this cohort of Youth Opportunity Ambassadors remains persistent, determined, and well-equipped to tackle the workforce.

There’s another skill young people have to their advantage: perseverance. “Utilizing [perseverance] can really help you excel at your job and show to your superior that you can beat the odds,” says Stephanie Hodges.

Not only are young people harnessing their skills to navigate the working world, they’re also committed to alleviating the barriers to entering the workforce for future generations. Whether it’s finding a fulfilling position or finding a position at all, “the most difficult part [of working] is just starting,” says Trinton Patterson.

Once Trinton and his peers get their foot in the door, Jean Montanez believes “as future employees and employers, it is our responsibility to make sure that future generations of young people have access to positions that not only pay them well, but allow them to grow not only as a worker, but as a person too.”

They’re also committed to alleviating the barriers to entering the workforce for future generations.

Though carrying limited experience, when equipped with the right skill set, young people like IYF’s Youth Opportunity Ambassadors can and will get the job done—and they’ll make sure future generations are prepared to get the job done too.

Learn more about the Youth Opportunity pre-employment initiative and the partnership between IYF and McDonald's.

Kelsea Johnson is a professional freelance writer and contributing storyteller for IYF's Youth Opportunity program.