Building on the previous blog post that highlighted the challenges young adults face in finding good jobs, Lori Strumpf, @LIKE Project Director, describes the @LIKE program which is helping vulnerable older youth find success in postsecondary education and the labor market. See a recent issue brief here.
Becoming truly prepared for college and career can be a challenge for all young people, but for disconnected youth, it can be particularly hard. The @LIKE (Linking Innovation Knowledge and Employment) program is a US Department of Labor-funded Workforce Innovation Fund project serving disconnected youth ages 18 to 24 in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial Counties in California. The vision for the initiative is that all young adults who become disconnected will have access to supports and services required for successful adulthood. The project is designed to provide an intensive set of services to disconnected young adults that move them onto a career pathway, stable employment, and that reconnect them to community supports.
The program is designed to assess for and build a young adult’s self-efficacy and resiliency as a key strategy for re-engagement in work, school, and community. Trained Life Coaches provide coaching and support to reinforce a young adult’s confidence and ability to see the barriers that get in their way but that can be overcome through good decision-making. Services are delivered through an intensive, wraparound approach that includes teaching basic skills, academic credit recovery, and career exploration. At the end of their time in @LIKE, participants are expected to enter postsecondary education, attain an industry-recognized certificate, or obtain employment that puts them on a path toward family-sustaining wages.
Young adults are exposed to work-based learning activities such as paid work experience, on-the-job training, and internships. Participants also earn the nationally-recognized Career Readiness Certificate which certifies that the individual has attained specific workforce competency levels. @LIKE partners with education institutions, businesses, regional workforce investment boards, and community-based organizations to provide services. (For more information on the @LIKE program design, visit our grantee summary.)
@LIKE began enrolling young adults in early 2013. As of December 2014:
- 658 young adults are enrolled
- 50% are 22 to 24 years old
- 56% of the participants are male, and 44% are female
- 40% have no high school diploma, and 4.8% enter with a GED. The remaining 55% have a high school diploma, with 4% having some college. Less than 1% has a college degree upon entry.
- 100% are considered low income.
With the newly-passed Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) extending the upper age limit for youth from 21 to 24, @LIKE provides early lessons on the challenges to recruiting and providing services to an older youth population. Over 20 months of active recruitment and service, the following lessons with regard to this age group have emerged. While @LIKE focuses on serving those who are very disconnected – those who have not been in school or working or in any other social service for at least 90 days – these lessons apply to older disconnected youth in general.
Recruiting Older Youth: Finding young adults ages 22-24 is difficult, as they are not all in one place with one contact point, such as a school system. Our most successful recruitment strategies have been:
- Going to ‘non-traditional’ venues to recruit one-on-one such as skate parks, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, and other places where older youth hang out.
- Utilizing young adults who have enrolled in the program to recruit their friends.
- Contacting probation/parole officers to receive referrals and housing authorities to identify families in this age category.
Ease of Access: This project has streamlined the enrollment process to ensure that young adults who take the courageous first step to engage with the program are not turned away. The application is one page long, there is extensive use of self attestation for key eligibility requirements, and services begin the same day that the application is completed. Young adults who move from @LIKE to WIA have made note of the very different process to become enrolled, commenting that WIA is so much more complicated and ‘not worth it.’
Providing Opportunities to Reconnect: Young adults ‘cycle’ in and out, meaning they connect to the program for a while and then disconnect and then reconnect. Knowing this, @LIKE decided not hold to the 90-day soft exit rule required under WIA. This has allowed many young adults who might have been ‘exited’ under WIA to come back to the program of their own accord. Staff continuously text, post on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, call, and make home visits to those who become ‘missing’ to let them know they are welcome back at any time.
Keeping Older Youth Engaged: Often the young adults in this age group have family responsibilities, so for many their main concern is to get a job. Helping these young adults find a job is the initial thing that engages them. Once they have experience working, have stabilized their finances a bit, and developed a sustained connection to a trained Life Coach, they are then more willing to engage in other educational activities designed to help them get a better job.
Addressing Mental Health Issues: Many of the young adults in this age group have mental health issues. Having both the resources and connections with mental health agencies and the program staff who are skilled in helping young adults take advantage of these resources is a must.
@LIKE has developed many processes and systems that are proving to be promising practices to successfully serve disconnected young adults that can inform the implementation of WIOA. A process evaluation that highlights effective practices will be released soon, and an impact study and cost benefit analysis will be completed in October 2016.
The next post in this series will be the voices of young adults in @LIKE, speaking in their own words about the challenges they faced and how the program has helped them.
- Issue Brief: Recruitment, Outreach, and Engagement of Disconnected Young Adults under WIOA
- Issue Brief: Using Assessments to Serve Disconnected Young Adults under WIOA
Lori Strumpf is the President of Strumpf Associates: Center for Strategic Change, a consulting firm located in Washington DC focused on organizational change management in public sector institutions. Lori is the Project Director for the @LIKE project. She has a Masters and Specialists degree in educational counseling and criminal justice.