Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Creating Career Pathways for DC Youth

Guest blogger Martha Ross is a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program whose work focuses on education, training, and the labor market. 

This week, Martha highlights recommendations from a recently released report “Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C.”.

No one is satisfied with the educational and employment outcomes of District youth, nor should they be. Consider a few data points: 

  • Unemployment rates skyrocketed during the recession and have yet to recover, disproportionately affecting younger workers. In 2013, unemployment among teens aged 16-19 in the District stood at 34%. Among young adults aged 20-24 it was 12.3%, and among the total population it was 8.6%. 
  • Only about two-thirds of public high school students graduate in four years. 
  • Unacceptably large numbers of low-income young people with lower levels of education—about 8,300, or 9% of all young people aged 16 to 24—are “disconnected,” meaning they are neither in school nor employed. 

So what should we do? In a recent report I co-authored with Mala B. Thakur, Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C., I outline two areas for action. 

1.) Programs serving youth should use data to measure their progress towards reaching their goals.
This practice would help young people increase their skills, educational credentials, and employment outcomes.  This sounds almost laughably commonsensical but it’s harder to do than it sounds.  Most organizations serving youth are well aware of the power of data, but on any given day, data-related tasks are vulnerable to being outranked by more immediate priorities. Organizations can find it difficult to direct resources toward data and evaluation, since it usually directly competes with service delivery. 
One concrete step would be for funders to support a community of practice for service providers to improve their use of data for learning, self-evaluation, and ongoing improvement.  A community of practice is a learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular topic.  In this case, members would be helping each other “get better at getting better.” 

2.) Use a career pathways framework to build a more coherent youth employment system. 
A career pathway provides progressive levels of education, training, and support services to prepare people for employment and career advancement. As defined by the Center for Law and Social Policy, career pathways incorporate three features: a) multiple entry points, both for the well-prepared and those with limited skills, b) well-connected education, training, and support services within specific occupational or industry-based career opportunities, and c) multiple exit points at successively higher levels of skills or more senior employment opportunities.

This recommendation focuses on improving how different organizations (adult education, K-12, community college, nonprofits) interact with each other to provide a structured sequence of education, training and other services. That’s why a task force or collaborative effort led by such entities as RAISE DC, the Workforce Investment Council, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education could be the appropriate vehicle to lead this effort.

Essential Features of a Career Pathway System

Source:  CLASP, “Shared Vision, Strong Systems:  The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0” (2014)

In conclusion:  The status quo demands a continuous and targeted focus on quality improvement and system-building.  Too few young people in DC meet key educational and employment milestones in the transition to adulthood. We can do better.

DCAYA would like to thank Martha Ross for contributing to our weekly blog, as well as her valuable research towards improving outcomes for District youth.

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