The Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) hosted the Maryland Workforce Outlook Forum on May 17 at Towson University. The event highlighted the economic conditions and workforce impacts of different groups in the state, one of which was opportunity youth.
Opportunity youth are 16–24 year olds who are not currently attending school nor are they currently employed. Opportunity youth are also referred to as “disconnected youth” because these individuals have the potential to reconnect with the workforce through education or employment. This is a heterogeneous population that can include young adults who have dropped out of high school, young adults who have dropped out of college, and young adults who have completed high school and have some work experience, to name a few scenarios. Due to the diverse backgrounds of these young adults, the population of opportunity youth has an array of skills and qualifications despite being out of school and out of employment.
From research conducted by the Governor’s Office for Children (2015), one in 10 16–24 year olds in Maryland is considered opportunity youth, while one in seven is considered opportunity youth nationwide. While Maryland is doing better than the national average, there are concentrations of opportunity youth throughout the state, particularly in areas such as Baltimore City (17,910), Baltimore County (11,735), Montgomery County (8,529), and Annapolis (8,175) (ibid, 2015). The situation is not self-correcting; in fact, the Job Opportunities Task Force report (2016) noted that the number of opportunity youth increased slightly in Baltimore City in 2016.
With these numbers, this population can make a significant contribution to the economy in Maryland if they become members of the workforce. While they are out of the workforce, the Job Opportunities Task Force (2016) noted that opportunity youth cost taxpayers approximately $13,900 per year or $235,000 over their lifetime when not engaged in education or employment. Considering that there were approximately 18,000 opportunity youth in Baltimore City in 2016, the estimated yearly cost to taxpayers was $250 million.
Recognizing this economic impact, the team at RESI used their proprietary Predictive Regional Occupational Matrix (PROM) industry-to-occupation forecast model and O*NET data to forecast occupations for 2017–2019 that would require similar certifications for entry. From this analysis, the occupations with the highest number of job openings in Maryland from 2017–2019 could be attained with the following certifications:
- National Professional Certification in Sales; 22,496 openings per year
- Microsoft Office Specialist: Microsoft Office 2010; 13,166 openings per year
- Mold Awareness Specialist; 8,205 openings per year
- Certified Maintenance Manager; 8,192 openings per year
- Certified Alzheimer Caregiver; 8,017 openings per year
Occupations available for those job seekers holding these certifications range from entry-level, such as a Food Concession worker, to more specialized positions such as Medical Assistants and Registered Nurses when undergoing on the job training or gaining additional experience. In addition, all of these certifications can be used as a foundation for occupational mobility over time. It should be noted that these certifications are acquired through standardized tests which require some previous qualifications, usually a high school diploma or a GED, and potentially on-the-job training. From this analysis, there are job positions that are available for opportunity youth which can lead to careers over time.