The Benefits of Workforce Exposure and Career Programming for Youth and Young Adults

Posted May 2, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Many young peo­ple are ambi­tious and inter­est­ed in a diverse array of career fields. Research shows that when young peo­ple are con­nect­ed to the work­force, it increas­es the like­li­hood that they will be employed and earn fam­i­ly-sus­tain­ing wages lat­er in life.

Yet young peo­ple can face myr­i­ad chal­lenges find­ing employ­ment, with those of col­or and those from low-income back­grounds expe­ri­enc­ing spe­cif­ic bar­ri­ers. Labor mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion has declined over the last few decades for youth and young adults — and the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has only served to bring fur­ther dif­fi­cul­ties for young peo­ple look­ing for work or con­nec­tions to a career path.

Work­force devel­op­ment and edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems and insti­tu­tions, as well as the com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions that sup­port them, can respond by expos­ing young peo­ple — par­tic­u­lar­ly those of col­or — to work­force train­ing and ini­tia­tives that help youth earn cre­den­tials, employ­ment expe­ri­ence and vital career con­nec­tions through appren­tice­ships, intern­ships, sum­mer-job pro­grams and oth­er types of work-based learn­ing opportunities.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion explored resources that high­light the ben­e­fits of these pro­grams and how they can help young peo­ple con­nect to edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and jobs. Here’s what the Foun­da­tion found:

Work-based learn­ing pro­grams help young peo­ple of col­or and those from low-income back­grounds obtain high­er qual­i­ty jobs lat­er in life

Path­ways to High-Qual­i­ty Jobs for Young Adults, a report from the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion and Child Trends, exam­ined employ­ment out­comes for young peo­ple of col­or and those from low-income back­grounds, find­ing that:

  • work-based learn­ing expe­ri­ences in high school, includ­ing intern­ships and appren­tice­ships, that incor­po­rate pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with adults help young peo­ple of col­or and those from low-income back­grounds gain high­er-qual­i­ty jobs by age 30; and
  • hav­ing a job as a teenag­er (ages 16 to 18) pre­dicts high­er job qual­i­ty in adult­hood and high­er wages at age 23.

The report sug­gests strength­en­ing work-based learn­ing pro­grams in high schools and help­ing teens and young adults — par­tic­u­lar­ly those with­out a post-sec­ondary degree — find on-ramps to employment.

Anoth­er Brook­ings report — Work-Based Learn­ing Can Advance Equi­ty and Oppor­tu­ni­ty for America’s Youth — cit­ed a Nation­al Bureau of Eco­nom­ic Research report that found that pro­grams like intern­ships and appren­tice­ships in high school boost­ed employ­ment for young peo­ple after grad­u­a­tion. It also not­ed that an MDRC report found that young peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in Career Acad­e­mies — which com­bine aca­d­e­m­ic and career learn­ing — had year­ly earn­ings gains that were on aver­age 11 per­cent high­er than those who did not par­tic­i­pate (the study mea­sured 8 years after graduation).

Andrew Sum, pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Labor Mar­ket Stud­ies at North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, notes that the like­li­hood that youth and young adults can find work in a par­tic­u­lar year is high­ly influ­enced by whether they worked the pre­vi­ous year.

Some work-based learn­ing pro­grams may improve edu­ca­tion­al outcomes

Work-Based Learn­ing Can Advance Equi­ty and Oppor­tu­ni­ty for America’s Youth also cites research that shows that pro­grams that inte­grate career-focused pro­gram­ming into learn­ing appear to improve grad­u­a­tion rates and pro­mote high­er post­sec­ondary par­tic­i­pa­tion. For instance, the report points to eval­u­a­tions of the Urban Alliance — which facil­i­tates an intern­ship pro­gram for high school stu­dents in Wash­ing­ton D.C. and oth­er areas of the coun­try — that show that par­tic­i­pants saw high­er grad­u­a­tion rates and enroll­ment in post­sec­ondary pro­grams com­pared to non-participants.

Greater align­ment between work­force and edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems can lead to pos­i­tive results.

Non­prof­its, work­force groups and edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems can work togeth­er effec­tive­ly to help con­nect young peo­ple to employ­ment — and exam­ples are emerging

Take Grads2Careers, a pro­gram that is joint­ly led by Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools, the Bal­ti­more Mayor’s Office of Employ­ment Devel­op­ment and Baltimore’s Promise, a city non­prof­it. The effort seeks to fos­ter greater part­ner­ship between the city’s work­force and edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems to build sus­tain­able new career paths for Bal­ti­more high school grad­u­ates who are not in col­lege or who do not yet plan on attending.

In its first phase, from 2018 to 2020, near­ly 500 young adults — most of them African Amer­i­can — enrolled in pro­gram­ming. Of an ini­tial cohort of 149 stu­dents, near­ly three-quar­ters com­plet­ed the pro­gram and 61% obtained a job with an aver­age hourly wage at place­ment of near­ly $13 per hour, accord­ing to assess­ment data. After 60 days, more than 90% of stu­dents in the first cohort who were placed in jobs were retained. A sec­ond cohort saw sim­i­lar com­ple­tion and reten­tion results — though their aver­age hourly wage was larg­er: $14.53.

Those results appear to be much bet­ter than Baltimore’s high school grad­u­ates gen­er­al­ly. An analy­sis com­plet­ed in 2017 of Baltimore’s class of 2009 found that most were strug­gling to stay con­nect­ed to edu­ca­tion or obtain work that paid a liv­ing wage — both short­ly after grad­u­at­ing and six years later.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the non­prof­it Year Up — which oper­ates in more than two dozen cities — works with local com­mu­ni­ty col­leges and oth­er sys­tem lead­ers to con­nect young peo­ple (ages 18 – 24) who are dis­con­nect­ed from school and work to edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and intern­ships in sev­er­al fields, such as infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy and finan­cial oper­a­tions. An eval­u­a­tion of the pro­gram found that, after 18 months, par­tic­i­pants worked more hours and earned high­er wages — on aver­age near­ly $4 more per hour — com­pared to young peo­ple not in the program.

Build­ing career paths for young peo­ple who have been involved in pub­lic sys­tems or faced oth­er adverse cir­cum­stances is par­tic­u­lar­ly important

Many young peo­ple who have been involved in fos­ter care face bar­ri­ers to com­plet­ing school and gain­ing a career, as do those who have been involved in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem or faced home­less­ness. Pro­grams that help con­nect these youth to career learn­ing and edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams can help them get back on track.

Learn and Earn to Achieve Poten­tial (LEAP)™, a mul­ti­site ini­tia­tive of the Casey Foun­da­tion, uses two career path­way mod­els to meet these young people’s needs: Jobs for America’s Grad­u­ates (JAG) and JFF’s Back on Track.

LEAP has seen some ear­ly suc­cess, accord­ing to assess­ments. LEAP’s 2019 eval­u­a­tion found that near­ly 70% of Back on Track par­tic­i­pants had pro­gressed into a post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion or job-train­ing pro­gram and forty per­cent had com­plet­ed their first year.

Among young peo­ple who com­plet­ed JAG’s Active Phase” — dur­ing which the major­i­ty of ser­vices are deliv­ered — 40% earned a high school cre­den­tial. And of that group, 76% were either employed or in school at some point dur­ing the fol­low­ing six months.

Learn more about LEAP

Learn more about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Gen­er­a­tion Work initiative

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