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Building Access to Social Capital and Labor Market Information: YAP’s Workforce Development Model Blazes New Trail

YAP has just launched an innovative workforce development program in three cities designed to change the way system involved youth are prepared for long term labor force attachments and success - YAPWORX. YAPWORX is developed on a Positive Youth Justice framework. It is designed to improve a young person’s attitudes towards gainful work by giving them genuine access to labor market information, the opportunity to take on new roles as ambassadors of that information, and the assistance to form greater labor market attachments all while working to reduce risky behaviors and chances for recidivism. 

YAPWORX helps young people discover meaningful work based on their interests and keeps them connected to industry professionals (Opportunity Advisors) who serve as career pathway guides. In this way, world of work participation has more meaning and its outlook a lot brighter. Moreover, young people realize that they are getting firsthand labor market information, not from a book, but from actual players in the labor force, thereby exponentially increasing their chances of becoming part of it.

Many companies, from large to small businesses alike, are looking for ways to support the future economic success of complex needs youth without turning to direct job placement.  For many employers, the complexity of the emotional, social and educational needs faced by youth makes immediate job placement difficult, often with unintended negative impacts on a young person’s sense of self and esteem.  What is being increasingly discussed is how businesses can reach the most complex needs youth with workforce opportunities without increased trauma to the young person and the business alike.  YAP has found an answer.

Under YAPWORX, businesses allow an employee to meet with a YAP young person and their Advocate (YAP’s trained community youth specialist) 3 times over an 8 week period (a cycle) for only 15 minutes during a normal business day.  Each meeting is highly structured around a specific world of work concept, and the business employee has information from a formal lesson to help guide the interaction.  Later, youth and their Advocates process that information into Learn-Work projects – service learning activities where students are paid to share what they learned about the world of work with their peers and family, thereby penetrating their immediate community with positive labor market information.

A growing body of research is now pointing to the impact social connections can have in reversing this trend. Young people with high social connections have greater rates of labor force participation and more opportunities to discover their own unique contribution to the world of work.  Traditional workforce development programs have not effectively addressed this issue.  Rather, the focus on job readiness training and credentialing has outweighed the importance of increasing youth social capital and giving them the necessary connections to put their newfound skills and credentials to work. For many researchers, workforce development programs have placed the cart before the horse. Building youth connections to the workforce can create the conditions necessary for developing skills, mature work ethics, and a sense of hope needed for long-term labor market success.

Local Opportunity Advisors can help “spark” our youth’s investments in education, skills training, and pursuing positive lifestyles by showing them how it directly relates to success in a specific industry.  Moreover,  businesses can help “spark” employee’s participation by donating cash grants to YAP based on the number of cycles an employee completes with a young person and their Advocate each year.

YAP is meeting with large and small companies alike - T. Rowe Price, Walgreens, PNC Bank, Kaiser Permanente and a platoon of small businesses expressed interest in learning about this new model of helping American’s most disenfranchised youth build future economic opportunities. If you work for a business that you think would like to learn more about this new and innovative program, please contact Ed DeJesus, National Director of Workforce Development.



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