Continuing the Discussion of Opportunity Youth

Last month, FSG and Aspen Forum for Community Solutions co-hosted a webinar, “Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth,” that explored why collective impact is a relevant approach for Opportunity Youth, and how communities can work together to improve outcomes for their local Opportunity Youth. The session was moderated by FSG’s Fay Hanleybrown and the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions’ Executive Director Steve Patrick, and featured panelists Adria Steinberg, Vice President, Jobs for the Future, and Stacy Holland, Co-Founder and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, the backbone organization for the country’s leading collective impact effort for Opportunity Youth, Project U-Turn.  

It was a lively discussion, joined by nearly 200 participants from a wide spectrum of organizations who submitted dozens of questions about supporting Opportunity Youth through a collective impact approach.

While the panel was able to answer many of the questions through discussion on the call, Adria Steinberg has graciously offered additional perspectives on two outstanding questions from the audience below:

  • Are we assuming that all opportunity youth should be steered back into a college track? For some youth, aren't there alternate programs, for entrepreneurship, for specific vocational tracks?

In today’s economy, young people looking for a path to a family supporting income will very likely need to earn a post-secondary credential or degree.  The old notion that a young person can or should enter either college or vocational track no longer holds.  State leaders now see the education level of their population as a primary driver of economic development.  It is a key reason most states are supporting the implementation of K-12 Common Core State Standards and of a new GED test, which focus on both college and career readiness. 

With the rising cost of colleges and universities, many young people may find that their best option is to go for a sub-BA credential—either a two-year degree or a shorter-term “stackable” credential that allows the young person to gain employment and begin earning a salary while continuing to upgrade his/her academic, technical, and professional skills and credentials.  Opportunity Youth understand that achieving their life goals means finding a way back into a pathway that hopefully provides both the education and work experience they need to gain stable footing in the labor market. The issue in many communities, that community collaboratives will hopefully help to address, is the dearth of such pathways. 

  • What strategies have been successful to create jobs or match jobs for the opportunity youth? With the high unemployment rate, job availability is an issue.

Yes, job availability is indeed an issue, especially for young people.  Globally, four out of every ten unemployed people is a young man or woman.  And many of those lucky enough to find employment have low-wage jobs that are not doing much, if anything to build their skills or resumes.  At the same time, a number of promising strategies are underway.

For example, schools and programs for opportunity youth in the YouthBuild and National Youth Employment Coalition networks have partnered with Jobs for the Future to match young people with career opportunities that lead to family sustaining wages. Specifically, Jobs For the Future has used its “Counseling to Careers” platform to conduct local labor market research to identify high demand employment opportunities as well as some “best bet pathways”— post-secondary education or training programs that prepare students for those careers.

Strong examples of job and internship creation can also be found.  For example, Learning to Work in New York City brings community-based organizations into the recovery schools (called Transfer Schools in NY) to ensure a youth development focus and organize internships for the young people.  Intermediary organizations (such as the Philadelphia Youth Network and the Private Industry Council in Boston) organize employers to provide good private sector jobs and internships (summer and school year) for young people, including those who have recently reengaged after periods of disconnection.  In Los Angeles, which has increased the share of its Workforce Investment Act funding allocated to out-of-school youth from 30 percent to 70 percent, the Workforce Investment Board and the school district are working together to redesign 13 youth employment centers as re-engagement centers that will return opportunity youth to both school and work.  It’s worth noting that a common success ingredient in such efforts is the presence of a professional staff who have training in both youth development and job development.  

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