Key Takeaways:

-        Today, 6.7 million young people in the United States are disconnected from work and school, with few opportunities to find and advance in a career.

-        Given Gap Inc.’s experience hiring first-time workers and equipping them with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, Gap Inc. can play a role in helping to reconnect these youth.

-        We want to unleash the potential inherent in all young people through the transformative power of work. We do this by providing financial support, designing and running programs, and leveraging other corporate resources on behalf of positive youth development.


Today, one in six young people in the United States is disconnected from school or work. Without a clear plan or path for the future, these 6.7 million young people have few opportunities to find and advance in a career. This limits their opportunities for a successful, stable adulthood, and costs the nation an estimated $93 billion annually in lost revenue and additional social services per year.[1]

We believe that work is a powerful force in a young person’s life, and we know what it takes for a young person to get a job and succeed in a work environment. Beyond a paycheck, work experience has the power to provide young people with critical perspective on their options for the future and new appreciation for the value of education. Job training programs can help young people develop critical life skills and make an indelible impact on individuals, their families, and the community.

Helping youth advance in work and in life has been core to our business since our first store opened in 1969. Since then, hundreds of thousands of young people have experienced the satisfaction that comes from landing their “first job” in our retail stores. By giving young people the knowledge and skills to actively shape the trajectory of their lives, we are also contributing to the health of the community and protecting the long-term health of our business. Our programs prepare young people for adulthood by exposing them to the transformative power of work.

In 2011-12, Gap Foundation President Bobbi Silten served on the White House Council for Community Solutions to develop a plan for reconnecting youth, ages 16-24, with meaningful education and employment opportunities. As part of this project, we collaborated with McKinsey & Company, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Opportunity Nation, and the Taproot Foundation to develop a new resource: Connecting Youth & Business: A Toolkit for Employers. The Toolkit guides employers through an assessment of their strengths to help them identify effective ways to support underserved youth and implement job training or mentoring programs that meet the organization’s needs and capacity.

A Virtuous Cycle: Connecting underserved youth to career and life opportunities

Gap Inc.’s signature youth program This Way Ahead provides job readiness training and paid internships for underserved youth in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco.

Working closely with three nonprofit partners (The Door, Enterprise for High School Students, and Cambridge Housing Authority), Gap Inc. employees created a program that helps young people develop the hard and soft skills that are critical for success in life and provides them with real-world work experience.

-        Our employees share what they have learned about career planning and the importance of education. They help participants explore a range of industries and become excited about finding a career they are passionate about.

-        Store managers facilitate classes in career skills – from making tough decisions and giving presentations to setting goals and resolving conflict. Along the way, interns meet with mentors from the nonprofit partner who help them navigate challenges and overcome potential barriers.

-        To date, 75 percent of This Way Ahead interns have been hired as permanent store associates, and their average tenure is longer than that of their peers.

-        The curriculum for This Way Ahead is available for other companies and organizations to use.

By the end of our 2012 fiscal year, more than 1,000 youth had participated in this life-changing program. Gap Inc. employees at every level of the company contribute to the success of This Way Ahead by volunteering their time and talent to develop the curriculum, teach classes, and coach interns.

Gap Inc. invests in nonprofit organizations that help young people explore their career options, develop career-related skills, and experience on-the-job learning. We work alongside community organizations as strategic partners with a shared goal.

-        Designed in partnership with the Pearson Foundation, Plan Ahead is a semester-long college and career awareness course for ninth graders in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). During 75 hours of coursework, students learn to develop a path to a career, college, and life after high school. In the 2011–2012 school year, nearly 4,000 SFUSD students completed the course. Of students surveyed after the first semester, nearly 80 percent reported increased knowledge of the classes they need to take to complete high school and go to college.

-        At Camp Old Navy, underserved youth experience what it’s like to have a job in a retail setting. More than 70,000 youth have participated in Camp Old Navy since it was launched in 1999.

While our programs were not designed to recruit or develop talent for the company, they have proven to be a source of qualified and motivated talent for Gap Inc. while helping young people discover their own career ambitions and chart a brighter future. In 2012, Gap Inc. served more than 89,678 young people in five countries by partnering with more than 60 community organizations. Specifically, 8,425 youth benefited from soft-skills development, 80,129 from work-ready skills development, and 1,124 from learn-and-earn experiences.

Given the large number of youth who are isolated from school and work and the complex challenges that these young people face, we know this is just a start. But we hope that Connecting Youth & Business will help other employers join the national effort to re-engage young people around the world.

[1] White House Council for Community Solutions: Community Solutions for Opportunity Youth, Final Report, June 2012.