Grant funds Urban League program to connect businesses with young adults, minorities

CANTON – A program hoping to help local companies recruit and retain young minority workers has started locally, with the aid of a national grant.

The Greater Stark County Urban League is using a $20,000 grant through the YES Project to have three young consultants work with three local businesses on ideas to attract younger employees. Joining the Urban League on the project are the Kenan Advantage Group, Aultman Health Foundation, and Akron-Canton Airport.

Plans are to take the ideas developed through the program and use them as a base for a broader program that can be used by more of the area's employers.

"We want the program to expand throughout the community," said Diane Robinson, president, and chief executive officer of the Greater Stark County Urban League.


The YES Project stands for young, employed and successful. It's a national youth employment initiative led by America's Promise Alliance, which believes that every young person seeking a job should be able to find one and thrive once they are hired.

Strengthening Stark learned of the grant program and suggested the Urban League apply, Robinson said. She had James Warner II, one of the agency's three employment navigators, lead the effort to secure the grant.

The grants were designed to have employers and young workers meet and collaborate on developing strategies to improve the inclusion and retention of employees of color within the workplace. Employer partners commit to using at least one of the co-designed strategies.

Warner quickly selected three candidates — Alahna Singleton, Ethan Hunt, and Zha'Ria Zachery — to work on the project. All have prior employment experience and were excited by the opportunity to help local businesses connect with young talent, he said.


Warner's three consultants will meet with top managers at the three businesses and tour the facilities. Initial meetings already have been held at the airport and with Aultman. Three meetings are planned with each business.

The group researches each operation ahead of the meetings. The advanced work includes looking at job openings and reading reviews from former employees.

Armed with information, Warner said, the consultants haven't hesitated to challenge the business people they are meeting with.

The research generates questions, said Zachery, who is starting her freshman year at the University of Akron. For example, the group has looked at each operations employee turnover rate. Zachery said a high turnover rate leads to the question — do the employees leave soon after being hired? If the rate is low, why do employees stay?

A suggestion pitched during the first meeting at the airport stuck with Ren Camacho, president and CEO.

Potential positions at the airport are listed in job postings as careers. But Singleton, a Malone University graduate who works for the National Inventors Hall of Fame, said the word "careers" might actually push some potential employees away.

"The word can be intimidating," Singleton said because it implies that a college degree or a special certification might be needed.

Camacho said changing to a more generic phrasing might open the door and make the job postings attractive to more candidates.


Being asked to participate in a project geared toward helping businesses connect with young people and minorities appealed to all three of the consultants tabbed by Warner.

"It feels great to be helping people and businesses in my community so that we can all live happy, healthy successful lives," said Hunt, a Kent State University graduate who works as a sales representative and has a small business.

Ralph Lee, the chief human resource officer at Kenan, said he hopes the program will provide a better understanding of what the company is getting correct and provide insight into what young and minority workers seek in an employer.

"We're looking for information and we're looking for confirmation," said Lee, who is a member of the local Urban League's board.

Camacho said the program gives businesses a chance to learn what young adults are seeking when they enter the job market.

"We're looking at it through their lens," he said.


As the local group meets with businesses, Warner is sharing details with the five other organizations that received grants in virtual roundtable conversations.

Robinson said the program fits the Urban League's mission to help minorities reach full parity on all levels of the economy, as well as social and health goals. It also fits into the agency's five-pillar strategy for workforce development.


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