Bright Idea: At a Seattle Corporation, Youth Hear Opportunity Knocking

Photograph of a door knocker.

When 18-year-old Dan Wall started out as a messenger at the Seattle logistics company Expeditors in 1988, he had no intention of attending college. And he never imagined he would become the senior vice president of a Fortune 500 Company.

His bosses, CEO Peter Rose and President of Sales and Marketing Tim Barber, saw what he couldn’t see. They knew he had the right attitude to go far. He just needed training to help him gain the skills that would get him there. 

Twenty years later, Wall founded Opportunity Knocks, an Expeditors job training program based on the philosophy that, like him, young people need to be given the chance to succeed. Expeditors recruits high school students who aren’t considering secondary education. But candidates possess what Walls calls the “organic” skills they need to succeed: “a positive attitude, good customer service and work ethic.”

A Chance to Grow

Since the programs’ founding in 2008, 25 young people ages 16 to 21 have spent six months getting on-the-job training in administrative positions at Expeditors offices. Expeditor staff also lead classroom sessions in which participants learn business etiquette, the importance of having a professional appearance, and computer skills. Youth also are paired with an Expeditor staff person who acts as a mentor and provides them with frequent, specific and honest feedback about their work and their progress.

Of the Opportunity Knocks youth, seven have been hired as long-term employees of Expeditors. Four have gone on to fulltime college careers, and five youth are still enrolled in the program.

Business Partnerships

To recruit youth for Opportunity Knocks, Expeditors has worked with The Washington State Association of Boys and Girls Clubs, Youth Force of Seattle, Communities in Schools and other nonprofit organizations.

“Expeditors is always looking for organizations that have the kids we are looking for and are trying to help,” Wall says. “If not, they may fall through the cracks”.

Wall suggests that nonprofits and corporations can work well together by understanding each others’ goals and missions and identifying the youth who will succeed in a job training program.

For Expeditors, a successful candidate is enrolled in high school and planning to graduate, involved in extracurricular activities, has support from family or friends, and has a positive attitude and good work ethic.

Expeditors meets with its partner organizations frequently and trains their staff on the Opportunity Knocks program. In turn, the nonprofit partners help youth set goals and encourage them as they move through the program.

The White House at the Door

Wall and others from Expeditors have been working to share what they’ve learned about getting at-risk youth ready for the workforce. Expeditors’ appearances before Congress and involvement with Corporate Voices for Working Families, a membership group of businesses, landed them a spot in the White House’s Summer Jobs+ program, which this summer will provide employment opportunities for a quarter of a million low-income and disconnected youth.

Opportunity Knocks will play its part by hiring 75 youth. Wall says the program will, as always, apply its framework of giving youth skills they can use at any professional services company.

Most important, he says, the program will enable Summer Jobs+ participants to imagine a future for themselves beyond their current circumstances, just as he learned to do.

For more information about Opportunity Knocks, contact Lenora Turner, Expeditors' supervisor of global training. Other companies participating in Summer Jobs+ are listed on the initiative's partners page.

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