Pilot Project Embraces Executive-Skills Coaching for Young People

Posted April 5, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young person receives executive-skills coaching to prepare her for a job.

Jason E. Miczek for the Casey Foundation

Exec­u­tive-skills coach­ing — which helps indi­vid­u­als set goals, devel­op plans and fol­low through with them — can play a mean­ing­ful role in help­ing young adults thrive in school, at work and in their per­son­al lives, accord­ing to a new report fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Future of Exec­u­tive-Skills Coach­ing and Behav­ioral Sci­ence in Pro­grams that Serve Teens and Young Adults shares lessons from a Casey Foun­da­tion pilot project designed to hone strate­gies and skills that are crit­i­cal to goal set­ting and fol­low through. The report, released by the non­prof­it MDRC, reviews lessons learned after three orga­ni­za­tions in three dif­fer­ent states incor­po­rat­ed exec­u­tive-skills coach­ing into their work with young adults.

We’re focused on find­ing the best ways to sup­port young peo­ple and fam­i­lies as they nav­i­gate school and work and plan for the future,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion. And exec­u­tive-skills build­ing can be an impor­tant com­po­nent of pro­grams and ser­vices that seek to do that. When lay­ered on top of train­ing and edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties and oth­er sup­ports — like mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with car­ing adults — this approach can help young peo­ple devel­op the skills they need to get and stay on a path to success.”

Child devel­op­ment experts pin­point exec­u­tive skills, includ­ing emo­tion­al con­trol and time man­age­ment, as among the last skills to ful­ly form in 20-some­thing adults. Expo­sure to extreme stress — includ­ing pover­ty, abuse and oth­er trau­mas — can delay this devel­op­ment process and under­mine a young person’s capac­i­ty to sharp­en their exec­u­tive-skill set, accord­ing to research.

As part of the Casey Foundation’s pilot project, three orga­ni­za­tions — New Moms, a job-train­ing, hous­ing and fam­i­ly-sup­port pro­gram in Chica­go; Women’s Resource Cen­ter, a pro­gram that offers career and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices to sin­gle moth­ers in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, who are involved in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem; and Teen Par­ent Con­nec­tion, a sup­port net­work for preg­nant or par­ent­ing teens in state cus­tody in the met­ro­pol­i­tan Atlanta area — con­nect­ed young women with coach­es who helped them to iden­ti­fy long-term goals, estab­lish an action plan and then make mean­ing­ful progress.

Coach­es helped iden­ti­fy poten­tial obsta­cles, as well as changes — or envi­ron­men­tal mod­i­fi­ca­tions — that could be made to reduce stres­sors and enable the young women to remain on track. Par­tic­i­pants were also asked to com­plete two assess­ments to iden­ti­fy their strengths and begin estab­lish­ing a rap­port with their coach­es. With these ele­ments in place, the young women devel­oped a long-term goal and an action plan to help real­ize it. Coach­es worked with the par­tic­i­pants over the course of the pro­gram to track progress and pro­vid­ed rewards when key mile­stones were met.

Some of the lessons to emerge from this work — as out­lined in the report — include:

  • exec­u­tive skills take time to devel­op, but even short-term behav­ioral changes can lead to mean­ing­ful gains;
  • incre­men­tal goal set­ting is crit­i­cal to success;
  • embed­ding exec­u­tive skills in inten­sive work­force pro­grams enables par­tic­i­pants to prac­tice their skills and goal set­ting dai­ly; and
  • pro­grams should aim to remove the stig­ma around devel­op­ing these skills and empha­size a focus on build­ing on exist­ing strengths.

While more research is nec­es­sary, the Casey Foundation’s pilot project indi­cates that strength­en­ing exec­u­tive skills has the poten­tial to help young peo­ple achieve greater suc­cess in the work­place. The Foun­da­tion will explore this fur­ther in 2018 by sup­port­ing oth­er work­force devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives — includ­ing a Bal­ti­more-based pro­gram admin­is­tered by the Mayor’s Office of Employ­ment Devel­op­ment that serves indi­vid­u­als receiv­ing tem­po­rary cash assis­tance, and two social enter­pris­es in the man­u­fac­tur­ing and food ser­vice indus­tries — that are begin­ning to embed exec­u­tive skill-build­ing approach­es into their ser­vice deliv­ery models.

Read the report

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