WCS Youth Employee Advisory Council (YEAC)

Building financial security in underserved communities through young adult employee feedback.

Photo of amattia@wcs.org
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Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Bronx, NY 10460

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Environment & Sustainability

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

WCS hires over 1,000 youth across our organization annually; however, prior to 2016, we had never brought managers together to consider the experience of all WCS youth holistically. In the Fall of 2016, with support from The Pinkerton Foundation, WCS brought together representatives from our Education, Business Services, and Human Resources teams to work with employment expert Stephen Dawson to answer one central question: how can we view the impending minimum wage increase in New York as a catalyst to reimagine how we work with young employees across departments? What is more, how can we tap into the unique insight and knowledge that these young people have about their jobs to improve business operations and employee relations?

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

A minimum wage increase means more viable seasonal and part-time work, but also increased wage costs for employers. WCS, is devoting resources to improve employee experience by formally soliciting business innovation ideas from front-line staff. Through a Youth Employee Advisory Council, young adult employees at WCS’s Bronx Zoo are shaping the visitor/customer experience and their own trajectories as seasonal and potentially permanent employees.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The WCS Youth Employee Advisory Council (YEAC) engages front-line youth employees from the Bronx Zoo in structured idea generation and workforce development. YEAC has three main goals: 1) to use youth employees’ unique perspectives to improve WCS operations; 2) to contribute to youth career development through skill development, leadership, and innovation training; and 3) to foster lasting and productive relationships between WCS and youth employees. The program is informed by the Idea Driven Organization: Unlocking the Power in Bottom-Up Ideas by Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder (2014), which posits that a large number of small ideas can empower organizations to innovate in unexpected ways. With a seasonal workforce of 1,400, half of whom are aged 16-24, across our five NYC parks (Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens zoos and NY Aquarium), we are poised to impact at scale, engaging young adults from underserved communities with employment and learning opportunities. WCS annually serves an additional 600 young adults citywide through formal volunteering and internships.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

In the fall of 2017, we recruited 26 front-line youth employees (aged 18 to 24) from the Education and Business Services departments (Restaurants, Merchandise, Visitor Services, Rides and Parking, and Admissions), to participate in YEAC. The main selection criteria for the pilot cohort launched in 2017 was income level, age, and local residence. The Bronx Zoo’s congressional district was the poorest in the United States for the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses. YEAC members submit their ideas through an online form. During the weekly meeting, YEAC members and YEAC Manager discuss the ideas. This first YEAC cohort generated 153 ideas and about one-third of these ideas were submitted to supervisors in Business Services and Education for review; 33 ideas were approved. Eleven ideas have been implemented, with more planned to be implemented in the spring of 2018 when the visitor season begins.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

YEAC members had 5 3-hour workforce development sessions (2017, 2018). Topics covered skills members need for job promotions including: effective communication; teamwork; time management; resumes; interviewing; decision-making; and public speaking. Members said workshops were valuable and supported career paths. Participants received stipends; developed transferable employee skills; and had direct access to jobs at WCS and partner employers. We will serve about 600 young employees and 600 youth.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • race/ethnicity
  • age - youth
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Many local CBOs are providing excellent skill development and direct services to underserved young adults. However, none have the unique position of being an at-scale employer of underserved young adults in the Bronx. WCS at the Bronx Zoo can innovate toward both improving the employee experience and improving the visitor experience, both of which have revenue impacts: employee and visitor satisfaction are key revenue drivers. First time work experience, especially positive and empowered work experience, can do a great deal in improving both long-term earning potential and career exposure.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

This fall, YEAC members generated more than 150 ideas to improve visitor and employee experience. Their ideas highlighted many aspects of their jobs where leadership had limited insight, enabling WCS to capitalize on front-line staff’s unique perspectives as posited in the Idea Driven Organizations. Eleven ideas moved through the development process and were implemented at the Bronx Zoo, with many more slated to be implemented in the spring when seasonal staff are hired and zoo visitation increases. WCS leadership was pleased with the types of ideas generated and implemented, and continue to workshop more complex ideas, especially those that aim to increase revenue or reduce costs. Being part of a formalized process for putting ideas in front of WCS leadership turned day-to-day job experiences into opportunities to identify challenges and think creatively about how to solve them.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

WCS has 3 strategies. 1) Over 2 years, add 43 young adult front-line staff to the YEAC team for a total of 70 youth directly benefitting from idea generation and professional development training; 2) Continue implementing YEAC ideas across WCS, improving the experience for over 1,400 annual front-line seasonal employees; 3) Use YEAC lessons learned to create an idea management system to expand to all of WCS. Our goal: to support young employees in generating innovation within WCS and in developing transferable skills to help them to grow in any career.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

A Pinkerton Foundation commitment of $450,000 over three years, beginning in 2017, launched WCS’s pilot cohort of the Youth Employee Advisory Council. The long term goal is for innovative changes to become operationalized after refinement and improvement over the course of 2018-2020.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

During the pilot, a YEAC advisory committee from various WCS departments met regularly to track progress. Now we have 2 new positions leading the initiative: Emily Stoeth, BA, MA, Manager of Youth Employee Engagement and Amanda Nichols, BA, MSEd, Evaluation Associate and Program Assistant. Emily has many years of experience in program coordination and conservation education for a range of audiences. Amanda has a background in research and evaluating programs at cultural institutions.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Word of mouth


Join the conversation:

Photo of Heather Saunders

Great way to incorporate youth voice in operations!

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