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