Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's Time We Stopped Paying Mere Lip Service to Youth Workforce Programs

I start every testimony I give in front of the Council with an explanation of who I am, a brief description of who and what DCAYA is, and a quick summary of why we care about about whatever agency or piece of legislation we're about to testify about. When we testify at hearings that deal with youth employment (DOES, WIC, UDC etc) I always include a line or two about how quality youth workforce development programming has the capacity to profoundly affect the life trajectories of thousands of young people here in the District.

Councilmembers usually nod their heads in agreement when I say those words. After all, who in their right mind would disagree with that statement? OF COURSE workforce development programming helps put young people on the right track! It seems fairly simple really,the city pays for programs that help prepare young people for the workforce early on in their working lives and the result is supposed to be that we have a well prepared workforce by the time these young people hit age 25. We have a problem though, and its not exactly a little one. 

Youth  between the ages of 20 and 24 experienced an unemployment rate of 17.7% in 2011. Teenagers (16-19) experienced a rate of 48.2%. The highest unemployment rate for any other age group in the District is 11% ( adults ages 45-54 and 55-64 both experience a rate of 11%).We also have thousands of 16-24 year olds who are not in the labor force at all. Often this is because young people chose not to work because they are full time students (high school or college), but we know from American Community Survey data that at least 10,000 young people are neither in school nor working. These are all indicators that we are doing something wrong.

So, going back to the capacity of youth workforce development programming to profoundly affect the life trajectories of young people; the devil is in the details. We can't just offer workforce development programming and expect it to have the positive effects we want it to. We have to be more strategic and not just because we're spending millions on these programs every year. The young people who take part in these programs do so with the expectation that they will help prepare them for a self-sustaining adulthood. Its with that in mind that DCAYA will be making the following recommendations at tomorrow's FY'14 budget hearing for the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and the Workforce Investment Council (WIC):

Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP)
It'll come as no surprise to followers of this blog, that SYEP is at the top of our list.
SYEP has improved greatly under Director Mallory’s leadership, however, there is much that could still be done to ensure program effectiveness. 

DCAYA Policy Asks: 

1) Use part of the existing SYEP budget to implement a SYEP participant outcomes framework that can measure the “work readiness” knowledge and skills gained by participants as a result of their participation in the program. Implementing an outcomes framework will allow DOES to more accurately gauge which host sites are contributing to young people’s ability to be "work ready" and will allow DOES and the Council to track the effectiveness of the program from year to year.

2) Use part of the existing SYEP budget to require an annual third party evaluation of SYEP so that DOES can continue to build off of the successes of the last three years and foster a culture of continuous improvement. This was done in FY’10 and FY’11 by Brandeis University and the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp (respectively). http://cyc.brandeis.edu/pdfs/reports/DOES%20REPORT%20Unfinished%20Work%20Final.pdf.

Year-Round Programming
The District has a seriously lop sided strategy when it comes to youth workforce development programming. We currently serve about 14,000 youth ages 14-21 during the summer months, but just a few hundred are engaged in year-round opportunities. SYEP should only be a part of the District’s strategy for ensuring young people have early exposure to the world of work and training opportunities to ensure youth are prepared for living-wage jobs. 

DCAYA Policy Asks:

1) Pilot a SYEP “build out” program that takes a subset of SYEP youth and connects them with year-round opportunities for employment using the same model of subsidized employment as SYEP. A small pilot (50 or fewer) could be taken out of the current SYEP budget whereas a larger pilot would require additional funds. It should be noted that while a program for in-school youth would certainly be advantageous for the District, there are currently relatively few opportunities for out-of-school young people to make positive connections with the workforce.

2) Standardize a referral system for SYEP participant that connects participants both in and out of school with year-round opportunities. DOES began to do this last year and referred a number of young people into pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training opportunities, but this work could be further expanded. If we knew this process was happening in a standard and formalized way, DOES could even use the number of referrals made to other programs as a measure of success for SYEP.

3) Ensure young people are appropriately supported in programming by better targeting services. A key reason this isn't happening now is because DC has a dearth of program options. We have SYEP in the summer, but then as we mentioned we have a small fraction of those 14,000 slots during the year. Young people over 18 can access "adult" services, but are not always appropriately supported by these options. In- school youth can enroll is different options like afterschool or college preparation programs, but these are not necessarily focused on workforce preparation. We need a more extensive menu of services that can serve different populations of young people, and to do that more funds must be invested in year-round programming rather than SYEP.

Performance Metrics and Outcomes Reporting
 Much like SYEP, many of our year-round programs (PYAP, High School Internship Program, Youth Connection Center) run by DOES currently lack of performance outcomes which would allow the city to accurately gauge program performance and effectiveness. 

DCAYA Policy Asks:

1) All programs overseen by the DOES Office of Youth Programs (OYP) should have articulated missions, youth outcomes frameworks, performance targets and publically available outcomes data. It’s not enough for DOES to run programs we need to know they are quality! Once outcome measures for all programming are established DOES should report out on those measures quarterly with their adult outcomes.

2) To facilitate this OYP must create a new strategic plan for “Youth Workforce Development”. Essential elements of such a document to ensure utility include: a) An articulation of how all of DOES youth programs and adult programs for 18-24 year olds fit into a larger web of service provision and what other agencies they connect to for wrap-around supports and or connection to academic outcomes (where appropriate) b) A clear mission/vision for each of the youth and young adult serving programs and an explanation of how each program directly or indirectly contributes to a well prepared District workforce c) A set youth outcomes framework for every program that OYP operates that includes data such as attrition rate, number of youth achieving academic benchmarks (grade level gains, GED/diploma attainment), work readiness benchmarks, employment gains/retention d) A budget breakdown of the costs associated with setting up program monitoring and data collection for all youth and young adult programs. This should include a breakdown of how much internal staff time needs to be dedicated to managing and monitoring different programs.

These recommendations cover a wide spectrum of issues and will take a lot of work on the part of DOES, especially the office of Youth Programs to implement. It won't be easy, but as a city we must stop paying lip service to the importance of youth programs and services and actually start managing for long term success. Our current approach may be working for some, but it clearly isn't working for enough. Here at DCAYA, we really do believe that youth workforce programs can have lasting positive effects for young people, but that can only occur when individual programs work strategically as part of a larger system of workforce readiness and preparation. We look look forward to hearing what plans DOES and the WIC have to make a "youth workforce system" a reality at tomorrow's hearing.

This blog post was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott.

For more information on DCAYA's work around youth workforce development please visit us online at dc-aya.org.

You can also follow us @dcaya or like us on facebook here.


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