Eight Ways Cities and Stakeholders are Encouraging Youth Employment

As the economic recovery continues at a modest pace, young people remain one of the last groups to benefit from slowly expanding job opportunities.

102343030Young people attend a job fair in Chicago. Getty images.

Statistics show that only one-third of U.S. teens work regular jobs, a level half that of 30 years ago and the lowest percentage recorded since recordkeeping began after World War II.

In the face of this trend, mayors and their business and workforce development partners continue to innovate at the local level. Despite continuing economic woes, there are many promising practices being implemented in cities, such as:

  • Philadelphia has enlisted a nonprofit intermediary organization to manage jobs programs and to blend and braid financial resources from a variety of sources.
  • Dubuque, Reno, and Omaha have partnered with local school districts and others to establish dropout reengagement centers. to ensure that young people have basic educational credentials as they enter the workforce.
  • With the support of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Board, Providence, R.I., and several other pilot sites have built financial literacy into job programs by educating young workers on how to manage their new income and save for their future.
  • Baltimore provides a one-stop, youth friendly point of access for referrals and training.
  • Cities across California are blending work and internship experience into secondary school designs.

Policymakers and funders are increasingly engaged in focused solution-seeking around youth employment. Three recent events demonstrate this renewed focus:

  • GenJoblessThe recent Generation Jobless conference sponsored by International House in New York City underscored the global nature of the youth employment challenge. Speakers including youth, representatives of cities and businesses, and journalists such as Fareed Zakaria outlined the causes and consequences of youth unemployment, and offered a number of possible responses.
  • The second annual gathering of teams from 21 Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund sites in the cold, clear air of Aspen, Colo. fostered a lively conversation about prospective roles of major employers in hiring youth. Check out the storify of the convening.
  • The Enough is Known for Action conference arranged by the Heller School-Center for Youth and Communities and co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor featured a call-to-action, problem-solving format as well as testimony about recent progress in multiple cities.

Andrew Moore
About the Author:
Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Reno Tackles Reengagement

Reno, Nev., joins the growing number of cities across the country that are using reengagement centers to address the needs of young people who have left high school.

Washoe County Reengagement Center Photo credit: Washoe County School District

“Two staff members of the Reengagement Center provided my only support. Otherwise I was alone. Because of them, I’m graduating in June 2015 with my class.” These sad yet inspiring words came from Tara Ebbs, a beneficiary of one of the Washoe County, Nevada Reengagement Centers in Reno who is now enrolled at Washoe Innovations High School.

Blog EMILY 10-3-14-03Tara and her classmate Jose Funes – who says he wants to graduate to set an example for his younger brothers – offered soul-stirring talks at a recent meeting among some 20 Reno-area community partners. With the students’ words ringing in their ears, the partners helped Reengagement Center staff develop a sustainability strategy for the initiative launched four years ago under a federal High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI) grant.

Washoe County is among the growing number of sites in the NLC Reengagement Network working to address the particular needs of young people who leave school. Last year’s graduating cohort saw 608 students leave anytime during high school, and the district recorded more than 700 students leaving during the 2013-14 academic year. With these numbers in mind, Washoe County is embarking on efforts to offer re-tooled and better alternative high school settings, including a Big Picture Learning-model school and schools-within-schools at each of the local campuses.

In their first three full years of operation, with four to six operating sites and a staff of as many as seven, the Washoe Reengagement Centers have reconnected about one-third of the pool of students in the sprawling county who left school recently.

An impressive 74 percent of the students re-enrolled through the Centers have “stuck it out” in school for at least the balance of the school year, placing Washoe County on par with the national “stick rate” for reengagement centers. Largely returning to alternative settings, about 20 percent of the re-enrolled students immediately began earning credits at a rate similar to that of traditional high schools students.

In a possibly unique staffing configuration and operating focus for reengagement, three Reengagement Specialists hold primary responsibility for outreach to former students identified as having left school. Three Family Advocates in turn provide case management services to re-enrolling students and their families, in an effort to remove a wide range of barriers students may face and ensure stronger parental/guardian involvement.

Strategic options that Reno reengagement partners will explore – as in other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago – include a higher-profile role for city government and other county government agencies, stepped-up or more formalized partnerships with nonprofit service providers with expertise serving the older teen population, and a substantially changed and rebalanced mix of funding sources. The community will also focus on how to keep one or more reengagement hubs going.

Look forward to hearing more from Washoe County as it plots its sustainability strategy – and from more success stories such as Tara and Jose.

Andrew MooreAbout the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Highlighting Advances in City Policy for Disconnected Youth

The annual member’s forum of the National Youth Employment Coalition serves as a hothouse of ideas for advancing young people through work and education, in the face of the ongoing youth jobs deficit and dropout crisis.

This year, three cities’ approaches to better policy and practice for disconnected youth stand out for their breadth and inventiveness. After ten years of policy attention to disconnected youth, perhaps this marks the beginning of a solid wave of broad citywide stage-setting and improved resource allocation and alignment. Which city will “catch the wave” next?

  • In San Diego, the regional Workforce Partnership has incorporated a focus on dropout reengagement in its current request for proposals for youth case management services funded under the Workforce Investment Act. As with the Los Angeles reengagement network of 16 reengagement centers, San Diego’s approach has a high potential for sustainability and for links to jobs, because it blends federal workforce funds with ongoing activities of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). For a target group of “youth who are at-severe risk of dropout or who have dropped out of school…the funded proposer will partner with SDUSD to expand their dropout recovery efforts and enhance supports provided to those students who are at severe risk of dropout due to chronic absences, credit deficiency, low reading and math skills and English language proficiency.”
  • In San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee commissioned the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families led a 16-month effort to update the city’s policy framework and objectives for Transition-Age Youth (TAY). In a process thoroughly informed by youth voices and vetted by numerous other participating city agencies, the document sets out baseline conditions and establishes measurable objectives for improving transitions for the 8,000 transition-age youth in need of additional supports in the city. An appendix offers a glance back at the path-breaking 2007 recommendations of the Mayor’s Transitional Youth Task Force (one-third of whom are youth) and a sample letter from the mayor that other cities could readily adapt to launch the policy development process among city agencies.
  • In Boston, now undergoing its first mayoral transition in 20 years, advocates and service providers from three coalitions focused on disconnected/opportunity youth came together to develop recommendations for the incoming Walsh Administration.   The brief document highlights ways the new mayor can lead to connect the city’s 12,000 youth and young adults who are not progressing in school and who are not employed. Nontraditional yet plausible roles for Mayor Martin J. Walsh include leading on development of postsecondary and career pathways, expanding alternative education options and supports, and appointing a school superintendent who will maintain a focus on recovering out-of-school youth. Expanding employment options for high school students and disconnected youth makes the short list as well.

Andrew Moore
About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Dropout Reengagement Extends Reach in 2013, Pursues New Heights in 2014

At its second national meeting in 2012, the NLC Dropout Reengagement Network set out a number of ambitious goals for itself. These included extending the outreach of the Network further; creating a sense of urgency around the need for reengagement; continuing peer learning; informing federal policy; providing students a voice; and demonstrating impact through narrative and numbers. One year has passed, and the Network can point to accomplishments on all these fronts! But before I dive into that good news, consider this vignette from Boston – the city that hosted our first Network convening two short years ago.

April Mae Smith dropped out of Madison High School in May, 2012. April briefly enrolled in the Re-Engagement Center (REC) to earn enough credits to become a senior that fall. But her heart wasn’t in it and she quickly dropped out, moved to Rhode Island to live with her boyfriend, started doing drugs, became pregnant and ended up homeless. Fortunately this interlude was relatively brief, and by fall 2012, April was looking for a way to turn things around so she could provide a better life for herself and her child. “I decided I wanted to graduate before my son was born,” says April, now 19. When April returned to school, she again turned to the REC. She delivered her son this June and about the same time, earned her diploma from the Boston Adult Technical Academy. Now she is enrolling in nursing school with assistance from REC staff. She credits the program with helping her get back on track. “The REC staff always told me if I needed help, to just ask,” April says. “I learned a lot more there than what I would have learned in the classroom. When I graduated, I was one of the top students.”

With that shining story of personal progress in mind, the Network’s 2013 convening in Los Angeles now opens — extending participation and purpose beyond reengagement to and through college, thanks to co-sponsoring partnerships with the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) and Zero Dropouts. Once again, the number of self-financed participants in the convening has doubled, such that what was a Network is now on the verge of becoming a movement.

This is not just a year of accomplishments; this is a year of clarifying nationwide results and impact. Network members reached agreement around a few common measures, and voluntarily submitted data compiled by NLC interns and Matt Mendoza of the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC). We learned that centers in 14 cities made initial outreach to more than half of those on dropout lists.  More than 10,000 young people received referrals to education options from a reengagement center or program, and for 6,000 of those youth, centers received confirmation of enrollment. Of those enrolled, 73 percent completed a full additional year of school or graduated.

In addition to recruiting the national meeting co-sponsors, we looked for strategic outreach and leveraging opportunities. This led to reengagement discussions at high policy levels in the U.S. Department of Education and with members of the rapidly growing Gateway to College National Network. Education Week chose reengagement as the topic for a special pull-out section, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided just-in-time support for publication of the new NLC Municipal Action Guide on reengagement, released this week and already drawing media interest.

The Network continues to grow from the ground up, thanks in large part to ample practice sharing. Chicago launched three reengagement centers. Washington State’s Open Doors initiative grew from 3 to 22 programs. Washington, DC commissioned a feasibility study, and plans to launch its center in April, 2014. The California Assembly formed a Select Committee on Addressing Out of School, Unemployed Youth, and in Congress, Rep. Jared Polis’ office completed drafting of the first ever federal reengagement bill – suitable to serve as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As the Network and new partners gather in Los Angeles, opportunities abound to discuss where to go next. One focus area to carry over from last year and build upon: propelling former dropouts forward into options to gain postsecondary credentials. A perennial issue involves using the demand for reengagement to drive creation of many more high quality school completion options. And the “new GED” and GED alternatives waiting around the corner in 2014 surely pose challenges for the broader “ecosystem” of alternative education.

Yet the past three years show that this is a Network that constantly reaches for new heights. So with those heights in mind, I look forward to pursuing these questions:

• What shall the Network do to advance the federal policy ideas built into the draft Polis legislation?

• What other states could emulate Washington and spread reengagement programs via state policy and local determination? (Massachusetts, Oregon, California – are you in the house?)

• What city or district – or coalition of districts – in partnership with Community-Based Organizations, will reprogram resources to expand alternative schools rapidly?

• Who will follow Los Angeles’ inspiration with the Workforce Incentive Fund, to identify and use a federal funding source to expand reengagement locally?

• How will we sustain the census of reengagement programs, and continue to add precision to our counting of results?

* Are the more experienced members of the Network ready for an external evaluation of their effectiveness and impact?

• How will the 21 cities involved in the high-profile Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund tackle the need for reengagement capacity?

• What other philanthropies will join the CS Mott and Annie E. Casey Foundations to lend their support to advance reengagement nationwide?

Andrew Moore
About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Getting to One Million – and Beyond

Last week’s initial meeting of the Opportunity Youth Network, a group of funders, corporations, the National Council of Young Leaders, and national organizations including NLC, provided an opportunity to confront a pressing national challenge:  how to reconnect one million of  the nation’s seven million “opportunity youth” with education and employment over the next two years.  Opportunity youth, which NLC has typically referred to as disconnected youth, constitute those young adults ages 16-24 who are out of school and out of work.

When thinking about “getting to one million,” the math may seem daunting.  How can national, regional, and local efforts add up to one million in the span of two years when at present national program networks such as youth corps, YouthBuild, and Job Corps – all built up over three-plus decades — likely reconnect at most 100,000 youth and young adults per year. We’re talking about an order-of-magnitude shift here.

  • The first 100,000 youth – a 10 percent down payment on the goal — could reconnect through the momentum provided by plans to launch a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, a partnership initiative propelled by the secretaries of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture as well as leadership of the EPA and other federal agencies that support conservation and historic preservation.
  • The 20 cities that are part of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund could take collective responsibility for reconnecting another 100,000 youth over the next two years.
  • Corporate partners involved with the Opportunity Youth Network, along with partners such as mayors, workforce boards, service corps, and community action agencies could target their resources to providing initial employment experiences for 50,000 – 100,000 youth per year.
  • A consortium of well-endowed universities could follow the inspiration of Tulane University President Scott Cowen to develop work and education pathways, perhaps in tandem with local community colleges, for another 50,000 youth.

With these four proposals, we’re at 300,000 – 350,000, well over the 25 percent mark.  But none of the above will be possible without a substantial re-allocation of resources. Now seeking ideas from colleagues and young people nationwide to keep the numbers aggregating to one million…or more. Provide your ideas in the comments section or email me at moore@nlc.org.

P.S. Behind the math rests the parallel challenge of defining “reconnection” in a way that is meaningful, rigorous, and achievable.  It’s not easy for anyone to sustain permanent labor market connections these days, much less young people just starting out.  So perhaps it will be sufficient to “count” paid work experiences lasting at least three to six months as evidence of reconnection.

Similarly, we need an education measurement, perhaps one that captures finishing a high school level credential or taking the first steps toward a postsecondary credential.  To smooth over the inevitable bumps of early adulthood, could reconnection also involve a new legion of mentors, trained to develop and sustain one-on-one supportive relationships?  I await the discussion, eagerly.

Andrew Moore

About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Dropout Reengagement Surges in Washington State

With a May 20 statewide meeting among representatives of 88 school districts, community colleges, community-based organization partners, and the City of Seattle, Washington State surged into new prominence in the national dropout reengagement field. In one way, Washington stands in a place of its own, since the passage of Washington House Bill 1418 and the establishment of the Open Doors Youth Reengagement system in state policy.

In a manner similar to the presence of multiple city- and district-wide reengagement programs in Colorado and New Jersey, Open Doors launched its first three local programs in 2012-13, and each is generating successes for local youth and lessons for other aspiring programs. May 20 meeting attendees gleaned those lessons and met in teams to consider the opportunity to join the statewide program network.

Notably, and somewhat distinct from dropout reengagement approaches in other states, Washington State’s Open Doors programs combine the dropout outreach and assessment functions with alternative education on site.  Open Doors programs must offer academic instruction, case management, counseling, resource and referral services, and the opportunity to enroll in college courses tuition-free if the program provider is a college.  Sue Furth, program coordinator, noted that financial motivation can match the drive for youth development: a state cost study found $250 million savings to public coffers, per 600 reengaged former dropouts.  With more than 30,000 students coded as dropped out over the past three years, statewide, the total savings from effective, scaled-up reengagement could become huge.

The three initial Open Doors Reengagement Programs differ in their sponsorship, consistent with the policy framework, which allows school districts to enter into interlocal agreements with a qualifying organization.

  • GRAVITY High School operated by Education Service District 113 represents a consortium model involving 25 school districts and more than 220 students in a large region southwest of Seattle.
  • The Kent School District operates iGRAD in partnership with Green River Community College, in the South Puget Sound area.  iGRAD offers three high school diploma options — students can earn a diploma from the Kent district, the state, or a GED — at its convenient location in a shopping mall.  Green River CC professors teach GED courses four days per week.  iGRAD offers classes in three different segments during the day — morning, afternoon, and evening, and also offers classes online.  Currently iGRAD serves 500 students, plans call for the program to double in size soon.
  • The Gateway to College program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology also qualified as one of the first three Open Doors programs, the only one directly operated by a technical college.  The Institute has developed interlocal agreements with 23 school districts to operate as what Washington State calls an accredited special purpose high school. Some 200 on-track students may enroll in the Institute directly.  Another 200 start in Gateway to College.  Regardless, students experience hands-on technical training, and dual credit earning opportunities. Gateway students receive more intensive case management. Students may earn one of three types of diplomas – a regular high school diploma, an adult high school diploma, or a diploma simultaneous with an Associate’s Degree (via Washington HB 1758).  To date, the Institute is seeing 60% fall-to-fall persistence.

The first three programs – which Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction hopes will soon be joined by others — also exemplify a comment that state superintendent Randy Dorn made at the meeting.  Noting that the statewide extended graduation rate (4-, 5-, and 6-year graduations) is 80%, “the next 5% will cost more, and will require a relationship.”

Dropout Reengagement Moves Forward in Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles and the LA Unified School District as close working partners: who would have predicted this in the midst of bitter struggles over mayoral leadership of schools a few years ago? Yet, it’s this partnership, and more, that I witnessed this week on a visit to the Boyle Heights Tech Center In East LA. And perhaps ironically,  the focus of the partnership rests on the 100,000 out of school youth and young adults in the city- not, in this case, on management and governance of students in existing schools.

Many exciting pieces come together to support young people at the Boyle Heights center, none so innovative as the placement of an LAUSD counselor at this and twelve other centers around the city. At the close of the first school year of this partnership-in-action, outplaced counselors have met with 3,800 young people, 600 of those fully out of school, many of the rest well off track in credit accumulation for their age.

The City of LA’s Community Development Department (CDD), the local manager of federal workforce and community development funds, administers the thirteen YouthSource centers – running three directly, contracting for the rest.  The centers have routed 2,300 of the 3,800 out of school and off track youth into programs funded through the Workforce Investment Act.

CDD won a US Department of Labor Workforce Innovation Grant for the 13-site reengagement network. The grant permits the city to pay half the salaries of the LAUSD counselors, and also to expand services to many more dropouts.

The employee status of the LAUSD counselors ensures a critical link. Counselors, even those seated at the YouthSource centers, have on-line access to the LAUSD student information system.  Counselors can work with dropouts to assess their educational status, for instance, in terms of credits obtained.  With this information in hand, counselors can make far more informed referrals to a high school completion option.

Overall, with early reports are so promising, the LA approach to dropout reengagement bears close attention for results and operational tips. Already, other cities could adapt the LA partnership model to scale up reengagement services and supports.

Nineteen Million

Sometimes a single number shakes me in my boots – a budget line, a murder rate, a grant amount.

Currently, the number “rocking my world:” Nineteen million.

Nineteen million is the number of young adults who will qualify for relatively low cost health insurance under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  That’s about half of the total number of potential new insureds under the Act. Some three million young people who could plausibly join their parents’ plans past age 21, thanks to the Act, have already done so; 19 million more remain to get connected with insurance.

Notably, 19 million represents three times the latest estimate of “opportunity youth”  who are out of school and out of work.  That no public or private response comes close to the scale needed to reengage opportunity youth fully, serves as a reminder of the immensity of the task in front of the nation to realize the promise in the Act.

Indeed, terms such as “quantum leap” and “step change” shrink in adequacy in the face of the bold, generationally significant public policy stroke embodied in the Act.

It’s going to take all youth workers, all city programs touching youth and families, all postsecondary education institutions, the entire service industry and other employers with high percentages of young adult workers – just to get anywhere close to 19 million new enrollees.  These groups and others need immediate, full access to those planning and implementing state health insurance exchanges and federal equivalents to prepare for the unprecedented scale of activity set to commence during the October-February enrollment period.

At stake: Nothing less than delivering for 19 million young adults what so many of we older workers already enjoy in the form of employer-provided health insurance benefits.

Violence Prevention Efforts in California Cities Continue Strong Despite Challenges

Ten California cities — nine longtime participants in a statewide gang prevention network, plus newly added Long Beach — gathered a few weeks ago to share practices and develop a 2013 policy agenda.  Despite prevailing challenges such as resumed high rates of violent crime, significant turnover among mayors, chiefs of police, city councils, and diminished police forces, and fewer resources than ever, commitment to working together as a network remains strong.

Several cities cited recent signs of progress.  Two cities have embedded leadership for public safety initiatives in mayors’ and city managers‘ offices.  At the ballot box in November, voters approved new or extended tax measures to provide targeted funding for public safety initiatives, in several cities.  Additional cities have raised new supplemental resources from the federal government.  Still others have secured means and partners for rigorous evaluation of their complex, comprehensive, community-wide violence prevention efforts.

With the state having granted dozens of additional cities a share of CalGRIP gang reduction grants, network cities once again named securing the future of this grant source a policy priority.  More broadly, looking at the multiple, sometimes similar grant programs that the newly constituted Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) administers, network cities spotted an opportunity to pursue consolidation of grant programs, or at least to “blend and braid” funds as contemplated in the recently enacted AB526.  And the cities present observed that — despite ongoing “realignment” in the state corrections and probation/parole system, and the formation of the BSCC — they need to work with the Governor and others to formulate an actual statewide violence prevention strategy and policy.

Angels on Ice!

The worlds of city economic development and youth development came together for a brief shining moment last week, at the LA Live! entertainment complex in Los Angeles.  Dense new residential and commercial development in and around the complex brings verve and people well into the evening, many nights each week.

With oversize statues of LA sports heroes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wayne Gretzky looming across  the street at the hockey-strike-darkened Staples Center, dozens of Angelenos took to an ice rink fitted out for the holidays.  “Not quite Rockefeller Center, but fun,” commented a New York native on the scene.

Skating action stopped for ten minutes as City of Los Angeles Councilmember Jan Perry joined complex developer AEG in recognizing the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) and in particular its corpsmember of the year, Ibrahim Francis — on a red carpet rolled out on the ice. Huge LED screens described the many environmental and educational contributions of the LACC, the nation’s largest urban corps which works very closely with the City of Los Angeles and many other partners.

Ibrahim, it turns out, finished high school and earned two college scholarships while working with LACC.  Interviewing for an internship with California State Parks, the agency offered him a job on the spot — no internship needed!  The award and the recognition stand as testimony to Ibrahim’s hard work and to the support LACC and its partners offer to him and several hundred other young people each year.

In the photo: Tamala Lewis and Michael Roth from AEG, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jan Perry and Corpsmember of the Year Ibrahim Francis