We Need to Engage Youth In Meaningful Work Earlier. Here's Why.

When Gus noticed no one else was doing anything about the pollution in a lake near his hometown, he gave himself the job. He formed a task force with his sister and a friend, and they came up with a plan to install floating plants to restore the lake.

Young adults like Gus are ready to start working, but they’re not looking to flip burgers or bag groceries. Typical first jobs like those have plenty to teach teens, but many of today’s youth are passionate about solving big problems.

The path to doing meaningful work is not clear for most teens, however. We need to help them break out of the confines of traditional routes by giving them the tools and introductions they need to work alongside us earlier.

Teenagers have ideas we need to hear

One needn’t look hard to find youth-started programs and inventions that are changing the world.

You’ve probably heard of Malala Yousafzai, who started a fund to support education for girls. Do you know that she has raised $22 million and supports 62 education champions in eight countries?

Check out Jaylen Arnold, too, who started a national anti-bullying education program that teaches people to be more accepting of differences. Just one of his speeches helped prevent 67 suicides.

Or kid entrepreneurs, like Maya Penn, who founded her own slow-fashion brand when she was just eight. She’s helping lead the way with sustainable practices and technologies such as biofabrication.

Unfortunately, most ideas from youth go unheard. With change happening at lightning speed, we need people from all walks of life to meet us at the table sooner. This includes teenagers. Their ideas can produce real change in the world if we listen and help pave the way.

There are thousands of ideas that the world hasn’t heard yet

In just our first months, HelloWorld has had more than 77,000 youth in over 160 countries log on and complete challenges, telling us through video about issues they care about and their ideas to solve them.

Consider Avi’s idea to track invasive species around the world. His algorithm could provide answers to help with climate change. Maria wants to help women around the world get their voices heard, especially those who are often overlooked. Snigda is looking to make sure all children have access to computers so they can learn about technology and coding. And Pedro has an idea to make accurate information about the spread of viral diseases available to communities that don’t have easy access to vaccines.

Today’s youth are bursting with ideas that can save lives and make the world a better place for everyone. How can we help their ideas become reality? We think the answer is to create opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful  work now.

Work experiences can help teens put their ideas into action sooner

Most youth with creative ideas don’t have the means to turn their ideas into reality. They need to build confidence, gain skills, and access networks of people who can help them. Helping teens engage in meaningful work sooner can help solve that, so communities can benefit from their ideas.

Learn skills and build confidence to develop their ideas

Research shows that important skills like working well with others and using technology tools are best learned through experiential training.

Experiential programs give youth a way to discover their interests, build skills, and gain confidence to pursue their passions. But early work opportunities like internships can be hard to come by. Research organization Gallup says that only 5% of kids in 5th-12th grade get to participate in internships in the United States, for example. With 40% of that same demographic hoping to start their own business, the leaders of Gallup and Operation HOPE call this lack of internship opportunities “the single biggest national failure of our leadership.”

One important asset that teens can build through internships and other experiential programs is a network of contacts who can be helpful later.

Gain access to networks to move projects ahead

As most adults know, networking is also a critical skill in today’s workplace. It plays an important role in innovation, too. If we provide a way for youth to interact with people in the workplace, it can introduce them to the knowledge and people who can help them overcome barriers.

Curiosity conversations are one way that Hello World challenges teens to interact with experts in the fields they’re interested in. We give young people a framework that helps them reach out and ask questions. When they connect with people this way, they can see a more concrete path forward for their ideas and develop a network of people who can help them.

Jobs of the future are changing — the path to enter the workforce needs to change, too

In less than a decade, the workplace will look very different. We think the path for teenagers to join the workforce should change, too.

Today’s youth are already looking to contribute meaningfully. One of the best ways we can give them a leg up is through earlier access to resources that are often reserved for adults in the workforce, such as networks and work experience. As we put teens in touch with opportunities and one another, they can start building the skills they need to make an impact now. We can do this through programs like internships and mentorships, funding for teens’ ideas, and tools like Hello World.

We invite you to join us in our mission to discover and develop talent in teens around the world. The sooner we help youth like Gus, Avi, Snigda, and Pedro, the sooner we can solve the myriad of interesting problems that face us.