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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