Generation Alpha and Z have survived economic recessions,
political turmoil, school and environmental threats, and other
traumas. This generation has grit, resiliency, and
skepticism about the way the world works that makes them a
resilient generation and solution-seekers to our most vexing
Through tools, articles, and current
examples, this E.M.P.O.W.E.R. Youth Toolkit can help staff and
policymakers bolster young people’s interest in local government.
ILG developed this resource with input from youth, elected
officials, youth development practitioners, local agency staff,
marketing professionals, and educators. The E.M.P.O.W.E.R
approach stands for:
Successfully empowering young people to participate in local
government can change the way our democracy works for an entire
generation of people. It can increase public participation by
youth in civic activities and ensure that the demographics of
people working in cities, counties, and special districts better
reflect the communities they serve.
Through this toolkit, ILG seeks to help local government better
communicate with youth about job, volunteer & civic opportunities
that will help advance democracy, increase equity and expand
Today’s youth are facing a wide range of challenges and
opportunities different than those of previous generations. Many
young people experience housing, food and income insecurity.
Their neighborhoods, schools and public environments may not be
safe or accessible. They may face discrimination or
lack of access to culturally-competent health services. Or they
may be unsure about where and how they will safely attend their
school or connect with peers or caring adults during the COVID-19
Our society continues to face challenges in achieving racial,
gender and socioeconomic equity, as the impacts of the murder of
George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic linger. Young people
are important drivers of equity, and their voices must
be prioritized by government agencies.
New tools for communication have also created new ways for youth
to connect and become advocates that did not exist five years
ago. These new advocacy venues have activated many young people,
but the platforms also complicate the flow of information
and the credibility of sources. Young people are saturated with
information and misinformation.
In historically under-invested communities, many residents also
experience lingering mistrust of the government. Many youth
do not fully understand the role of local government. Young
people may not understand how they can be involved civically or
that there are fulfilling and well-paying job opportunities at
their city, county or special district agencies.
“Cities, towns, counties, and special districts
across the state are experiencing persistent
challenges attracting and retaining qualified
employees.” The baby-boomer “retirement wave” is
here. In April 2017, the City of Los Angeles reported
that over 40% of its 45,000 employees would be
eligible for retirement by 2018.
Cal-ICMA Talent Initiative 2.0 Report
Many local government staff do not understand how to communicate
and engage with young people. Most agencies do not seek out youth
as a key demographic to be engaged in decision-making or to
consider youth as their future workforce.
The adversity youth face presents a
real opportunity for generational resilience and innovation.
Resilience and innovation are two hallmarks of local government
agencies through the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To tap into the dynamic energy and grit of these talented
stewards, local governments can employ a two-part strategy to
connect with youth:
- Inform, engage and empower youth to participate in local
government activities, like youth taskforces and commissions
- Encourage youth to experience local government from within
through workforce development programs that highlight careers in
Local agencies must actively seek out youth voices to participate
in program development, community visioning, needs assessments
and decision-making. Youth input will help improve the long-term
effectiveness and relevance of programs and services and help
advance equity for all community members.
Knowing about, and accessing, stable public sector employment is
one approach to economic equity. Cities, counties and special
districts can develop programs that provide opportunities leading
youth to access fulfilling and available public sector jobs.
Local programs can support youth in developing skills,
knowledge and confidence to effectively participate in civic
With flexibility and creativity, public sector employers can
address their own growing needs for a qualified workforce of the
future by cultivating talent in diverse and underrepresented
This toolkit presents a wide range of opportunities to change how
youth learn about the public sector and their role in