In Focus: Building the Capacity of Communities

Dec 2, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Our Youth, Our Economy, Our Future: A Road Map for Investing in the Nation’s Talent Pipeline

This week, the Campaign for Youth released Our Youth, Our Economy, Our Future: A Road Map for Investing in the Nations’ Talent Pipeline, an investment strategy that offers a set of recommendations to help national, state and local public and private stakeholders identify and invest in solutions to help reconnect opportunity youth across the nation. 

Building upon our 2008 recommendations which received the support of over 250 organizations, our 2016 strategy offers six overarching ways to bring these recommendations to reality:

  • Make reconnecting our youth a national priority.
  • Build on the strengths of young people and involve them in finding solutions for their generation.
  • Invest in high-need communities.
  • Create opportunities for work experiences that are relevant to careers and have real world application.
  • Create pathways to financial independence and social mobility.
  • Build state and local capacity to expand effective high-quality, evidence-based programming

Solutions are within reach but require strong public support, public and private investment, an active nonprofit sector, enabling government policies, and the collective knowledge of the youth development field.

Read our Road Map for Investing in the Nation’s Talent Pipeline.

Sign on in support of the Road Map to connect youth and young adults to education, work, and opportunity!


Nov 10, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Employment Pathways for Boys and Young Men of Color

By: Kisha Bird & Clarence Okoh

Last month, CLASP, in partnership with the Moriah Group and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released Employment Pathways for Boys and Young Men of Color: Solutions and Strategies That Can Make a Difference as part of a larger issue brief series aimed at identifying and disseminating best practices that support the well-being and empowerment of boys and young men of color. In particular, this brief discusses promising strategies to improve employment outcomes for young men of color and the role of public policy in dismantling discrimination and promoting pathways to work. 

While the employment landscape has improved significantly for many populations since the height of the Great Recession, young men of color still confront an employment crisis. Abetted by factors such as employment discrimination, educational inequities, and disproportionate contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems, young men of color far too often are required to navigate challenging barriers to access quality jobs and career paths.  Employment data from the U.S. Census Bureau underscore these disparities. For example, teenage African American males experienced a 43 percent decrease in employment between 2000 and 2015 and currently have the lowest levels of employment among male teens at 16 percent. 

Despite these barriers, communities across the country have deployed promising strategies to help reconnect young men of color to work, education, and opportunity. These strategies range from subsidized employment to national service, civic engagement, education, and training. While no single strategy is a silver bullet to solving the youth employment crisis for young men of color, collectively they offer communities the opportunity to customize strategies to fit their unique needs.

Addressing racial disparities in male youth employment will take more than local innovation. Equity in employment and economic opportunity for young men of color will require robust federal investments and policy change that not only provide opportunities for young men to enter into the labor market, but also address other educational and life challenges they may face. Elements of systemic policy change for young men of color should include:

  • Connecting Boys and Young Men of Color to Work through the Implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) – State and local communities can leverage youth funding requirements to expand access and improve the quality of the workforce development services that they offer.
  • Creating Bold New Federal Investments in Subsidized Employment StrategiesSubsidized employment strategies like transitional and summer jobs build young people’s work experience and allow them a stronger foothold in the labor market. This strategy has demonstrated great promise in connecting people with limited work experience to employment opportunities. Recently introduced legislation like the Opening Doors for Youth Act could provide a vehicle for achieving those investments.
  • Keeping Young Men of Color Connected to School through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – The new law contains several provisions designed to promote high school completion, address school climate issues, and promote more seamless access to educational services for court-involved youth. Policymakers and advocates can take advantage of the planning process to ensure that the law meets its full potential for boys and young men of color.
  • Expanding Access to Health and Mental Health Services through the Affordable Care ActMedicaid expansion provides an opportunity to connect unprecedented numbers of young adults to the health services they need, especially mental health services. Trauma-informed, culturally relevant healthcare can provide strong support in promoting the well-being of boys and young men of color.

Young men of color are integral and invaluable assets to our communities. Yet far too often policy falls short of achieving equity and addressing their needs. Through a more ambitious and holistic policy agenda, policymakers can strengthen the economic security of young men of color and promote greater inclusion in America’s future workforce.  


Nov 10, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Building Leaders: Reflections from a PowerCorps PHL Leader

By Mabari Byrd and Kisha Bird

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to present together at the 3rd Annual Cities United national convening in Birmingham, Alabama about employment pathways for opportunity youth. Mabari focused his presentation on lessons learned from the PowerCorps PHL program, where he is a supervisor. PowerCorpsPHL is a City of Philadelphia AmeriCorps initiative that engages young adults, ages 18–26, in transforming their lives through service. PowerCorpsPHL members are predominately male (82 percent) and people of color (96 percent are African-American, 3 percent Hispanic/Latino and 1 percent White). Roughly 75 percent have been involved in the justice system and 20 percent in the foster care system.

PowerCorps PHL was featured as a promising model to improve employment outcomes for young men of color in a recently released RWJF and Moriah Group brief authored by CLASP. We know it will take more than strong programs to connect young men of color and opportunity youth to employment, career pathways, and opportunity. To support those programs, we need public and private investment; robust federal, state and local polices; and attention to how policy and investment combat structural racism and target communities and populations in most need.  Nevertheless, at the core, are leaders like Mabari and programs like PowerCorps PHL that inspire transformation and connect young men to economic opportunity.

Mabari shared that effectively supporting opportunity youth in his community has required focusing on five key elements:  recidivism, leadership, mentoring, team building, and capacity building.

1.      Recidivism: Breaking the Cycle by Changing the Circle

Many opportunity youth have become accustomed to leaning for support on social circles that have a negative influence on them.  These connections are one of the strongest factors that can increase their chances of going back to prison. Many of their self-destructive habits and behaviors stem from the familial influence of "friends". We must address the need for youth to begin to identify and cut off those individuals who've played influential roles in leading and encouraging them to participate in self-destructive behavior. Building new social networks is key to combating this challenge. 

2.      Leadership: Action Breakthrough Leadership 

Building leadership requires taking on a more empowering approach rather than a teaching method. Adult allies must be clear to youth that they already possess leadership within themselves. This is in contrast to conveying a message that they must first earn and gain leadership skills that they may not yet possess. Mentors and other allies should have the perspective of looking to extract their talents already there rather than instilling talents in them, all of which can make a big difference in how opportunity youth respond to mentoring. 

3.      Mentoring: Molding through Mentoring

Mentoring should use a strengths-based approach that encourages rather than discourages. Many mentors can lose sight of just how easy it is to fall into a discouraging rant or approach by neglecting the "Sandwich" approach when giving constructive feedback. We want opportunity youth to reflect on the feedback that they receive, so it's important that we provide them with something positive to "step on" and something constructive to reflect on. Remember, we are their life coaches. They are our talented players. If we forget to inspire and lead, we can become their fans. And what do fans do? They cheer you on when you are winning, but tear you down when you are losing. Eventually, youth stop listening to their fans, which is a goal we want as mentors/leaders. But if they consider us as leaders to be just another fan, then we lose their willingness to play for us. 

4.      Team Building: Teamwork Puts the Team First

This is a huge factor when it comes to providing opportunity youth with a safe and organic environment to create new social circles and strengthen their interpersonal skills. Group meetings, program/organizational chants (that tie in to mission statement), large group outings (outside of work or program hours), and just doing fun activities help break the monotony that can come with intense self-reflection. Team building provides opportunity youth with a "spiritual break" on their developmental journey. As leaders/mentors, we can forget just how hard it is for our youth to look in the mirror and begin deconstructing and reconstructing their self-identity, especially when they've lived in environments where so many negative people have told them they "look" fine. Plus, this "spiritual break" becomes even more recharging when opportunity youth can share the experience with their peers.   

5.      Building Capacity by Building Leaders: Your Impact is Your Best Pitching Point

In considering your organization’s capacity, ask this question: how can you build capacity to help provide more employment opportunities for opportunity youth? You can always send a senior staff or administrator to speak about your organization at various events related to workforce expansion and your program model. You can hire an external partner to build relationships with companies and businesses. However, one of the most effective ways to build workforce capacity for any organization serving opportunity youth is to allow the youth you are building and working with to be your organization’s ambassadors and representatives. This approach has benefits for youth and the organization on so many levels; most importantly it provides an opportunity for your organization’s brand to be recognized by others through the youth leaders they are seeing live and in person. Here are a few actions steps to build the brand by building leaders:

  • provide opportunities for youth to strengthen their public speaking and networking skills
  • have potential employers meet and socialize with potential employees and youth leaders
  • support seasoned staff to work with entry-level staff and youth leaders as they participate in local and national events. 
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