Experts Offer Advice on Building Successful Youth Credentialing Programs

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The federal Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S Employment and Training Administration (ETA) held a live online chat Nov. 15 to discuss methods for helping young people obtain job skill credentials. Expert panelists for the event included William Miller from YouthWorks Indy, Prevention PLUS, Inc. (PP) representative Tammy Miller and the City of Los Angeles’ Lisa Salazar.

Salazar discussed the Los Angeles Reconnections Career Academy, a dropout recovery program serving young people ages 16 to 24.

“Through a partnership between [Workforce Investment Act] youth providers, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Community College District and Chamber of Commerce, high school dropouts are recovered through a grassroots, door-to-door campaign and placed back into school while training in a career pathway program,” she wrote. “Our program blends multiple funding streams that provide education, workforce training and support.” 

The program helps young people earn skills certifications via community college classes, some of which are offered at offsite youth centers and community classrooms. “Youth can see the direct correlation and relevance of their studies,” Salazar wrote during the text-only chat. “We use contextual basic skills to assist young people complete their high school requirements while introducing elements of their chosen career pathway.”

Salazar wrote that working with community college districts is key to establishing credential programs that can help young people obtain entry-level occupational certifications. 

“We turned to reports prepared by the LA [Los Angeles] Economic Development Corporation and used their labor market projections to identify industries with entry-level labor needs,” she wrote. “Then we met with the LA Community College District’s Dean of Economic & Workforce Development to identify existing certificate programs and where there was need for certificate/credential development.”

The program primarily targets healthcare, green transportation and construction certificates, she wrote. She recommends that fledgling youth certification programs incorporate diverse funding streams, which include combinations of WIA, Department of Education and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) resources.

“The goal of our organization is to prepare urban youth for postsecondary success,” wrote Prevention PLUS, Inc.’s Tammy Miller. “Fully integrated into all of our programs is a focus on postsecondary education and training opportunities, including leadership development, service learning, and workforce development skills training that will result in career placement in high-growth, high-demand jobs.” 

Prevention PLUS, Inc. is a community-based nonprofit serving young people, ages 14 to 24, in Clayton County, Ga. Miller wrote that a majority of the youth enrolled in the service are high school dropouts from low-income neighborhoods, adding that she serves a considerable number of young people that have aged out of the foster care system. Through the service, a 10-month YouthBuild program, students can earn high school diplomas or GEDs by enrolling in half-day courses, alternating between academics and construction work.

“A strong academic program model is important,” she wrote. “Because so many of the programs require a college entrance exam, it is important to ensure that our participants do well.”

The program partners with Atlanta Technical College to assist participants in preparing for college, Miller wrote. The “Supply Chain Program” offers a 7-week course allowing participants to earn warehousing certificates. Students enrolled in the program generally earn starting wages of $11 to $15 hourly, she wrote.

“PP-conducted research using LMI [Labor Market] data on high growth, high demand careers in the South Metro Atlanta area,” Miller wrote. “We found that Supply Chain was an emerging field. It also made a lot of sense to us because we are less than 10 miles from Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. Delta Airlines, UPS, FedEx, Gate Gourmet [and] Wal-Mart all have corporate headquarters or major distribution centers directly within a short radius of our program.”

Earlier this year, EmployIndy held a summer camp that offered young people training and credentialing opportunities in several information technology fields, William Miller wrote.

“We look at a number of factors including gains in work readiness skills, credential attainment and program completion for starters,” he wrote. “Our service provider had a strong background in IT and was aware of entry level, stackable credentials that IT employers looked for.”

While Miller wrote that it was difficult to certify many young people in such a short amount of time, he believes the program definitely had an impact on several participants.

“Many of our credentials are not recognized for performance, he wrote, “but many still have value.” 

Salazar wrote that effective staffing is essential to any successful youth program. “The program staff have to be able to establish trusting relationships with young people and provide constant follow-up to identify potential problems before they occur -- attention to small clues that one might normally over look,” she suggested. 

She added: “Say what you’re going to do and do what you said.”