Youth employment currently stands at its lowest level in more than 60 years. Many suggest that this is due, in part, to the disproportionate impact the Great Recession had on young people, particularly low-income young adults of color.
The White House Council for Community Solutions estimates there are approximately 6.7 million Americans ages 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor enrolled in school. About 3.3 million are what economists consider to be “underattached” — young people who may have held jobs or attended college for a short period, but who have not progressed through college or made a stable attachment to the labor market.
Approximately 3.4 million, however, are chronically disconnected, and are more likely to have grown up in poverty, to be young men of color and face a confluence of risk factors — for example, are young parents, have been involved in the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems or have dropped out of high school.
With only 19 percent of African-American and 21 percent of Latino youth working, most youth of color will reach adulthood without benefiting from high-quality work experiences to fuel their career aspirations. Worse, high levels of youth unemployment have been linked with higher rates of violence and involvement in high-risk behaviors among teens, which can lead to increased incarceration and decreased school completion, and undermine future employment prospects.
This reality is especially pertinent for our most vulnerable youth. Young people in foster care are four times more likely to graduate from high school if they have worked before their 18th birthdays. Young people who are disconnected from both work and school for an extended period of time miss out on valuable learning opportunities, which diminish their future earning potential. Studies estimate that each year of disconnection can reduce a young person’s lifetime earnings by 2 to 3 percent.
On July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the first reform of the public workforce system in 15 years. WIOA provides unprecedented focuses on connecting high-risk young people to training and employment services, requiring a minimum of 75 percent of state and local youth funding to be invested in out-of-school people ages 16 to 24.
WIOA supersedes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. It outlines a broad new vision to support an integrated service delivery system through which states and local areas can leverage other federal, state, local and philanthropic resources to support in- and out-of-school youth. WIOA commits funding to provide high-quality services for young people beginning with career exploration and guidance, and support for educational attainment and opportunities for industry-focused, in-demand skills training. These services are intended to lead to employment and career pathways, or enrollment in postsecondary education.
The U.S. Department of Labor has charged regional Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) with implementing WIOA. WDBs were created as part of the Workforce Investment Act in 1998 and direct federal, state and local funding to workforce development programs. WDBs are made up of representatives from business, organized labor and educational institutions. WDBs research and compile information on labor market needs in their communities, and oversee American Job Centers (formerly called One-Stop Career Centers), which connect individuals with training and employment opportunities.
According to a recent survey of WDBs conducted by the National Association of Workforce Boards, 69 percent of WDBs believe that recruiting out-of-school youth will be the most challenging aspect of implementing the new WIOA requirements. To do so, many will need to partner with nonprofit youth service providers to contract workforce development services for out-of-school youth.
Today, many WDBs are in the process of developing operational plans to ready for WIOA’s July 2016 implementation deadline. This is an opportune time for youth-serving nonprofits to develop stronger relationships with their local WDB and leverage their resources in two ways. First, youth-serving organizations can contract with WDBs to get new funding to support their organizations’ employment and training services. Second, an organization can collaborate with their local WDB and its partners to help young people access valuable work-and-learn opportunities from other providers.
Many WDBs have also formed Youth Councils to guide their youth programs and policies. To locate your local WDB Youth Council, visit the service locator on the CareerOneStop website. If your program offers youth employment or training services, apply to join the Grads of Life Partner Directory so employers in your area can reach out and work with you to create employment opportunities for the youth you serve. If you are considering partnering with a youth employment services provider, ensure the program meets national quality standards, such as those developed by the National Youth Employment Coalition.
Recent research has shown youth employment services are most effective when they offer paid work experiences and/or financial incentives; link education and training with labor market needs; address developmental and basic needs through complementary supportive services; and provide continued post-placement support as youth progress along their career pathway.
Providing these types of intensive services requires cross-sector collaboration between the public workforce system, employers, colleges and youth-serving organizations. WIOA incentivizes and supports this type of coordination, and if fully implemented, will provide vulnerable young people a chance at achieving a successful transition to adulthood.
Venessa Marks, M.A., and Ed Trumbull, M.P.M., work on ICF International’s Family Self-Sufficiency team and collaborate with federal, foundation and nonprofit clients to improve economic stability and well-being of vulnerable families and youth. To learn more about WIOA and opportunities for public workforce collaboration, contact Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org.