As the U.S. labor market recovers from the Great Recession, businesses are hiring new workers and taking advantage of emerging opportunities. In fact, the unemployment rate is below five percent for the first time since 2007. Unfortunately, young workers are not benefitting from the improved economy at the same rate as the overall workforce.
People between the ages of 20-24 are unemployed at a rate nearly double the national average and the jobless rate for those between the ages of 16-19 is nearly triple the national rate. Disconnected and at-risk youth have more difficulty finding employment, earn less throughout their career, are more likely to be incarcerated, and are more likely to be young parents than their peers who are in school or working. Youth unemployment also leads to lost income tax revenue, a greater burden on safety net programs, and increased expenses associated with higher crime levels. Connecting these younger populations to high-quality employment and training opportunities is critical to ensure that the next generation of workers can access the same economic opportunities as generations before.
One emerging strategy for strengthening connections between these “Opportunity Youth” and local businesses and employment opportunities is to expand investments in youth work-based learning (WBL) programs, such as paid internships, on-the-job training (OJT) programs, apprenticeship, and other models. Work-based learning is generally defined as training that takes place within the context of a wage earning, long-term employment relationship between a business and a worker in which the learning worker has the opportunity to develop measurable skills through instruction at the work site and, where appropriate, in a school or training program. This measurable acquisition of skills should lead to incremental higher wages and, potentially, an industry recognized credential.
A new paper by National Skills Coalition and National Youth Employment Coalition explores the role well-designed WBL opportunities provide youth participants. Through conversations with youth intermediaries and employers, community-based organizations running youth programming, and youth participants, we concluded that work-based learning programs should provide the following elements to ensure success for both the participant in the program and the business for which they work:
- Paid work-based learning opportunities, with wages provided either through employer, provider, or combination of the two: By combining paid work with academic instruction, work-based learning makes it easier for youth participants to support themselves and their families while gaining skills and credentials that can translate into longer-term career advancement.
- Strong partnerships with business and other community stakeholders: To realize the benefits from WBL, business partners must be engaged throughout the process of starting and running a program. The most successful programs also rely on partnerships with other stakeholders to deliver key educational or support services.
- Positive youth development and continued support services: Work-based learning requires significant investments in wages, education, and necessary partnerships among a variety of stakeholders. WBL may be even more expensive to deliver to youth participants because they often need more intense support services for a longer period of time than adults need in order to succeed
- Linkages to career pathways either through future employment opportunities or future education and training opportunities: Work-based learning can expose youth to different career opportunities, help them build work experience and a work history, increase understanding of the application of classroom learning on the jobsite, and connect them with adult mentors successfully working in their chosen industry.
- Congress should increase funding for youth workforce development activities that facilitate WBL;
- The Administration should invest in intermediaries that facilitate expansion of work-based learning for youth;
- Congress should expand financial incentives to businesses participating in work-based learning; and
- Department of Labor should issue additional guidance for the workforce development system on working with employers hiring with out-of-school youth and at-risk youth.
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