By Sam Piha
We know that when asked, older youth say they are most interested in acquiring the skills needed to get a job. Also, we know that as youth program leaders, it is our job to help prepare young people for success in adulthood, which includes creating opportunities to explore careers and gather work-based skills. Afterschool, sometimes referred to as Expanded Learning (ExL), is well positioned to help older youth to acquire these skills.
In preparation of this webinar, we asked Bill a few questions on the importance of youth workforce development in afterschool programs, and his responses are below.
Q: What do you mean by workforce preparation?
A: Preparing older youth for the workforce is giving students both the skill building instruction, practice and experience to prepared them for the employment process, and then provide additional specific preparation previous to an actual workplace environment to provide a truly beneficial experience and real context for working. Starting to expose and prepare older youth to serve in afterschool or expanded learning (ExL) elementary programs can be a significant help to developing and finding potential quality staff, thereby creating your own ExL program staffing pipeline.
Q: What do we hear from the business community in regard to preparing youth for the workforce?
A: Businesses and corporations are looking for a diverse workforce of young employees that can assimilate into the workplace smoothly, quickly, and carry themselves in a professional manner. Being able to thrive in a team environment and/or on team projects is also a highly sought ability. They are also looking more now at what an employee can actually do, rather than what level of education they have attained. Then once employed, advancing in the workplace also has far more to do with an employee’s “people-skills” than the volume of work completed. In addition, Community Colleges are considering giving credits for employment completed in general. Resumes are very important in demonstrating what skills potential employees possess, and ExL employment provides an opportunity to acquire a vast number of skills and competencies.
Q: Why is preparing youth for work and career success important for young people from low-income neighborhoods? Is there an issue of equity that we should seek to address?
A: Preparing young people from low-income neighborhoods is absolutely critical for their success in both education and the workforce. Results from a Gallup Poll showed that 65% of underserved and youth of color will take their educational and career advice from someone in the workplace, over their parent, teacher, or counselor combined. Thus, it is incredibly clear that preparing and placing our underserved and youth of color in the workforce is a MUST.
Our ExL youth participants are the diversified workforce we are looking for in our ExL programs. Having students serving in elementary ExL programs, can also be a start towards an education pathway, which should then help provide the diversified Exl workforce and potentially continuing on to the diversified teaching workforce desired.
I would tell the other afterschool programs that it is an excellent idea to bring student youth workers to their program because it is giving them a chance to succeed in life, and they won't be just in the streets doing nothing. Instead, they will be in the programs learning about new experiences and how to be better in the future.” – HS youth, Richmond Village Beacon Center, SF, Ca
Q: Is this an appropriate concept for elementary, middle and/or high school?
A: This is most appropriate for high school students, as they are old enough to get a work-permit from their school district. Employing high school youth in elementary school ExL programs does have a positive effect on those programs. Also, older youth students serving in our elementary school ExL programs do not require a Work-Permit, so the opportunity is open for ALL high school students. (We do avoid high school students working with middle school students to avoid potential over-identification issues.)
Bill Fennessy is a Program Specialist for Workforce Initiatives at the California AfterSchool Network (CAN). Bill was part of the first round of ASSETs (After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens) programs funding. He subsequently joined Think Together as their first Director of High School Programs and continued this role later at A World Fit for Kids, before joining CAN.
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