Career hub in Vegas seeks to tackle high youth unemployment with virtual reality
One minute, a teenager could be in the West Charleston Library in Las Vegas. The next minute, that same teenager could be working at a virtual reality hotel reception desk, greeting customers, taking payments and learning about the hospitality industry.
Getting a glimpse of career fields through a virtual reality lens is just one of the unique components of the Employ NV Youth Hub and Teen Zone located inside the library. Clark County commissioners and various Nevada elected officials attended the hub’s grand opening ceremony earlier this month.
“The new Employ NV Youth Hub will provide additional entry points into the workforce for our young people by providing access to internships, pre-apprenticeships, mentoring, pay training, and yes, J-O-B-S, jobs,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV).
In Clark County alone, there are almost 46,000 young adults ages 16 to 24 who are considered disconnected youth — meaning they are not enrolled in school or working a job. Nevada unemployment rates for this age group continue to be higher than the national average and above any other age group in the state, according to a Guinn Center report. It’s even higher among minority populations who have access to fewer resources.
With the help of the hub, which is across the street from the College of Southern Nevada’s Charleston campus, young adults can access resume-crafting support, interview practice, internships, educational programs, virtual reality simulations and other career-building opportunities. For those 12 to 18 in need of a place to study or simply hang out, the Teen Zone offers television, video games, board games and a lounge area.
“We need to do right by our kids. We need to make sure that we are providing the appropriate support systems, the mentoring, the coaching, to help remove the barriers that often hinder their success,” Democratic Lt. Gov. Lisa Cano Burkhead, a former high school principal, said at the opening ceremony.
Economic and mental well-being
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many activities and events to transition online, but also created a barrier for those on the verge of entering the workforce.
The national unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds in 2020 was 14.9 percent, but it was 23 percent in Nevada. Pre-pandemic in 2019, youth unemployment was only 10 percent, according to the Guinn Center study.
Unemployment rates in families and young adults are interconnected to mental health, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book.
“Being anxious or depressed can affect a young person’s ability to apply for, interview for, accept and retain a job,” Lisa Hamilton, president and chief executive officer at Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in the report.
An estimated 9 percent of Nevada children ages 12 to 17 have anxiety or depression and the state ranks 47th in the nation for overall child well-being — a metric that accounts for economic well-being, education, health, family and community.
Nevada in particular has higher rates of poverty, substance abuse, depression and mental health issues in young adults and teenagers, according to the Guinn Center report.
“Let's continue to promote our youth,” Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz said at the event. “They need us especially after the pandemic and the state of mental health in our community.”
A virtual world
The West Charleston Library is one of the first public entities in Southern Nevada to harness the power of virtual reality for career development among young adults. By using headsets, library patrons can immerse themselves in real-world job scenarios, find which ones interest them and gather further information and resources from staff regarding that job position.
While giving users a glimpse into career fields, it also provides young adults with real-world scenarios. Whether playing as a garbage man or a firefighter, they can gain valuable experiences and skills that can be applied to various aspects of life such as learning how to use a fire extinguisher.
Virtual reality offers some job training, but the career coaches, who staff the hub, can provide in-person experience and paid training opportunities as well.
“I think roughly about in the next 20 or so years, we'll be doing a lot of things virtually … simply because technology is on the rise and individuals definitely need to know how to work these types of systems to actually navigate through the workforce system,” said Christopher Williams, a business liaison at Employ NV Youth Hub.
According to a 2022 study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a business advisory and accounting firm, almost 82 percent of employers nationwide expect that within the next three years, they’ll be using the metaverse – a virtual world that imitates aspects of real settings and situations, such as attending staff meetings and trainings, but without leaving the vicinity.
Additionally, employees learn soft skills, such as communication and time management, four times faster with virtual reality than in a classroom setting, according to the study. Training that would take two hours in a classroom setting can be completed in a half hour in the virtual world since users are found to be more confident and engaged in the virtual setting.
The Employ NV Youth Hub is working to help provide resources for the youth in Las Vegas by working directly with employers. The hub is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and the Teen Zone is open during regular library hours.
With their proximity to the College of Southern Nevada, Employ NV Youth Hub is hoping that teenagers and young adults spread information and participate in the hub. The addition of virtual reality will also help further engage the younger community.
“This extended partnership that we have with the Las-Vegas Clark County Library District is going to help our young people identify their untapped potential,” Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy said. “We all have potential. We know that we all have something to contribute in this lifetime.”