A New Approach to Preparing Young Adults for Jobs

Posted April 16, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog positiveyouthdevelopmentingenwork 2016

The Foundation’s new Gen­er­a­tion Work ini­tia­tive aims to con­nect more young adults with jobs by bring­ing togeth­er two dis­tinct sets of strate­gies: (1) demand-dri­ven strate­gies that focus on build­ing rela­tion­ships with busi­ness­es and fac­tor­ing in the needs of the local econ­o­my and (2) pos­i­tive youth development.

But what exact­ly is pos­i­tive youth development?

The Fed­er­al Inter­a­gency Work­ing Group on Youth Pro­grams describes pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment as an approach that inten­tion­al­ly engages youth with­in their com­mu­ni­ties, schools, orga­ni­za­tions, peer groups and fam­i­lies in a man­ner that is pro­duc­tive and con­struc­tive; rec­og­nizes, uti­lizes and enhances youths’ strengths; and pro­motes pos­i­tive out­comes for young peo­ple by pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, fos­ter­ing pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships and fur­nish­ing the sup­port need­ed to build on their lead­er­ship strengths.”

This approach emerged after decades of oth­er attempts — from inform­ing young peo­ple of the con­se­quences of poor life choic­es to scar­ing them into mak­ing bet­ter ones to resort­ing to pun­ish­ment for inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior — either failed or saw only mod­er­ate suc­cess in reach­ing youth. Indeed, as we’ve learned through our work to reduce juve­nile deten­tion and incar­cer­a­tion, the pro­grams that make a real, demon­stra­ble dif­fer­ence take a more con­struc­tive approach, con­cen­trat­ing on ther­a­peu­tic coun­sel­ing, build­ing skills and case management.

Research sug­gests employ­ing pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment strate­gies with­in youth-focused pro­grams helps young peo­ple trav­el a less trou­bled road to adult­hood. But what do these strate­gies look like in prac­tice? While pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment can take many forms, it con­sis­tent­ly includes sev­er­al key elements.

Pos­i­tive youth development:

  • is pur­pose­ful and delib­er­ate. While pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment may, and should, seem warm and casu­al, it is a planned, thought­ful approach that involves train­ing staff and mon­i­tor­ing whether such prac­tices are actu­al­ly in place on a dai­ly basis.
  • ben­e­fits oth­er peo­ple or soci­ety as a whole. Get­ting youth involved in activ­i­ties such as vol­un­teer­ing reduces their like­li­hood of engag­ing in prob­lem behaviors.
  • is an approach, not a pro­gram. A pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment approach can be used in var­i­ous pro­grams, sys­tems and set­tings and take dif­fer­ent forms, whether it exists with­in an appren­tice­ship or a job-train­ing program.
  • empha­sizes youth engage­ment. Pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment seeks to engage young peo­ple in learn­ing, rather than lec­tur­ing or teach­ing them. This goes beyond just doing things and calls for car­ing and think­ing about what the pro­gram has to offer.
  • rec­og­nizes youth poten­tial. Pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment draws on youth strengths through mean­ing­ful projects or work, such as peer men­tor­ing, that fur­ther enhances those strengths — what­ev­er they may be.
  • pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties to fos­ter young people’s suc­cess. These oppor­tu­ni­ties might involve jobs, job train­ing, vol­un­teer­ing or ser­vice learn­ing, serv­ing on youth advi­so­ry boards, refer­rals for assis­tance, men­tor­ing or sports activities.

And the most impor­tant ele­ment, by far, is devel­op­ing pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with car­ing adults — con­sis­tent rela­tion­ships that affirm young peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who may not have expe­ri­enced trust­wor­thy con­nec­tions with adults. The U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices’ Office of Ado­les­cent Health has sug­gest­ed ways to fos­ter such rela­tion­ships in youth-serv­ing programs.

Employ­ment and train­ing pro­grams can begin infus­ing pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment strate­gies into their work with young adults by train­ing staff to feel com­fort­able apply­ing these prin­ci­ples in a vari­ety of set­tings, such as the class­room, in one-on-one inter­ac­tions and in work-relat­ed envi­ron­ments. Our local Gen­er­a­tion Work part­ners are refin­ing their use of such approach­es as part of their efforts to help young peo­ple enter the work­force and begin build­ing life­long careers. They — and ulti­mate­ly, we hope, oth­ers — will use what they learn from that process to weave devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate strate­gies into their work around young adult employ­ment. We look for­ward to shar­ing their progress in the years ahead.

Learn more about pos­i­tive youth development.

Adapt­ed from Why Pos­i­tive Youth Devel­op­ment Works.”

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