Answering the President’s Call for Service

John Hogan

John Hogan is being honored as a Youth Jobs+ Champion of Change for his innovative work to develop the discipline and skills associated with employment for our country’s youth.  

This is the story of the unlikely merging of a Presidential call to action and the musings of a grumpy old man. 

United We Serve, President Obama’s nationwide service initiative, is built on the belief that ordinary people can come together to achieve extraordinary things when given the proper tools.  One of the major initiatives to come out of the President’s call was the White House Council on Community Solutions.  Launched by executive order in December 2010, this team identified and researched a critical challenge facing our nation: the crisis of youth unemployment.  There are over 6.2 million Opportunity Youth (ages 16-24 and not working or in school).  The annual opportunity cost to the United States is a staggering $250 billion, which includes lost revenue, earnings, and increased social services.

In 18 months, the White House Council for Community Solutions (WHCCS) established the framework that would become Youth Jobs+. They published several important “how to” guides for businesses to engage with youth and the community. The final report by the Council was delivered to the President in June 2012 with several calls to action.  The Aspen Institute answered the call by creating the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund. 

While all of this was happening, I was answering some calls myself.  I retired from my first career and was pursuing an MBA when I began researching youth employment.  At first, it was nothing more than a grumpy inquiry, “Why aren’t these kids working like they used to?”  The question turned to research, and the research to a business plan, and the business plan to a social enterprise: TeenForce.  Launched in 2010, TeenForce is applying the successful principles of the staffing industry to solve the youth employment crisis.  

TeenForce has demonstrated that a private-sector approach can address the crisis.  TeenForce has employed over 230 youth in the last two years with 50 private sector employers including El Camino Hospital, RFI Communications & Security Systems, Goodwill, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea.  The youth in this program have worked 70,269 hours and earned $712,349.

The market-based approach has also proven more cost-effective for the community. At a net cost of just $1.92 per youth hour worked, Teenforce is a bargain compared to government managed youth jobs programs, which cost $14 to $20 per hour.  We are delivering a meaningful social benefit without any new government funding because our youth workers meet the legitimate needs of businesses.

About 10 months after our launch, I fielded a call from a potential employer.  He asked, “Can you help me employ some foster youth?  I have heard that they have a tough time.”  Answering that call in 2011 cascaded quickly into a successful pilot project and the formation of the Foster Youth Employment Coalition.  The FYEC then made another call: to the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.  They answered in a big way, with a commitment to generate 100 jobs for foster youth in 2013.  We are at 81 jobs now and on our way to meeting the goal. 

We are just scratching the surface of what can be done when the private sector understands that social solutions can occur in the context of meeting their business needs.  We seek to expand our call to the private sector through our involvement in the launch of Opportunity Youth Partnership project created through funding received from the Aspen Institute on Community Solutions.  This is where our work intersects with the President’s call for action.  We are excited to see where answering the next calls will lead us.

John Hogan is the founder and full-time volunteer CEO at TeenForce, a social enterprise dedicated to solving the youth employment crisis by meeting the hiring needs of business.   

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