is Unlocking Talent

How Under-resourced Teens and the Arts Provide a Roadmap to the Future of Employee Experiences

Beyond the immediate focus on the hybridization of everything, our shared time of renewal and reopening foreshadows an unimagined next for the future of employee experiences.

Tomorrow’s businesses will be more remote, equitable, diverse, inclusive, accessible, technically savvy, and generation-rich than ever before.

This has our teams—and our entire industry—asking big questions: How do we all accelerate into this future? How do we tap into a pipeline of future talent? How do we start moving our employee experiences into this unimagined next?

To dig in for answers, we connected with the prestigious non-profit Artists for Humanity (AFH) and their founder, leader, and artistic director, Susan Rodgerson. Susan has a unique first-hand view of today’s generation of young creatives and a rich perspective on how businesses can tap into a nontraditional, underserved talent pool.

A Unique Perspective

For over 30 years, AFH has provided under-resourced teens the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design. The keyword in their mission? Teens. AFH is a place where teenagers from Boston’s most underserved communities are employed to explore and express their creative abilities.

“Each year, we have over 300 teens employed at AFH. This year 100% of our teens are graduating from high school on time and accepted into colleges,” shared Susan. “Our teens are employees. We treat them as colleagues and professionals and provide them with real-world work.” A notable recent program is their project with NOBULL, the hot-and-rising Official Footwear and Apparel Brand of CrossFit®. By introducing young people’s creativity to the business community, AFH is a global role model for bridging economic, racial, and social divisions while having a first-hand view into the next-next generation of workplace talent.

The Untapped Talent Pipeline

Today it is typical for office-centric businesses to source their talent from universities and build an internship-to-employee pipeline. For leading companies, their people teams are now recruiting diversified talent from alternative sources and networks. Some smart, progressive businesses are also looking to cultivate talent earlier in their professional careers.

“Who’s to say it needs to start with a college or post-college internship?” reflected Susan. “We have clients, like a large financial institution and a hot apparel brand, celebrating the success they are having in their collaborations with AFH’s teen employees. AFH’s model is based on the understanding that when you give a young person respect and responsibility—when you treat them as a partner—it inspires them to recognize their value and expand their vision for their professional future.

The success [AFH is having] shows that talent pipelines can successfully be expanded to include teens from under-resourced communities. These successes can be had when we expand the talent cultivation model to move from mentorship to scholarship to internship to employment. That’s a powerful model that more businesses can effectively develop today, which will have many positive returns as they grow their future workforces.”

The Workplace for Future Talent

The narrative on the rising teenage workforce is that they want stability, flexibility, and connection from their future employers. However, Susan and her teams have seen that this generation of teens is different from those of even a few years ago.

“Driven by technology, today’s teens adapt and learn at a faster pace than ever,” shared Susan. “This means they have a better view of where opportunity is and how they fit into it. They have more opinions. They want more leadership opportunities. And, overall, they know how things work and have a strong intelligence about the world.”

Especially in the creative fields, today’s teens have a team-first mindset. Susan sees that “what young people want and need is community, collaboration, and healthy competition. And they expect the ethos of an organization to wish the best for each other.” As a result, the future of employee experiences will be one that openly shares love and connection between team-centric individuals.

Return of Expression

As AFH’s teens continue to show us, the intersection of art, culture, and business is a microcosm of where society is headed next. In their futures, they are expecting an employee experience that prioritizes community. Across it all—the today and the tomorrow, teens and employment, art and culture—the lines of separation are quickly erasing.

As Susan sees it: “In our reopening and reconnecting world, there is a sense of renewal that sets the tone for our future. A renewal of community, collaboration, competition, love, and creative expression.” The results of this renewal are what teens expect today. And this is the renewed baseline for our brand and employee experiences of tomorrow.


By Brent Turner

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Brent is a member of the executive team for Opus Agency, an experience agency that delivers flagship programs for 13 of the top 20 global brands.

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