Q&A: How to Help At-Risk Youth Find 'Promising' Jobs

Photograph of a young health worker standing with a young construction worker.

The Administration on Children and Families’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation recently released a series of briefs that explore how service providers can help at-risk youth achieve well-being and self-sufficiency. One part of the formula is connecting young people to jobs with good pay and opportunities for growth and advancement. NCFY spoke to M.C. Bradley and Jiffy Lansing, two of the co-authors of "Connecting At-Risk Youth to Promising Occupations," to learn what constitutes a “promising” job, and how runaway and homeless youth workers can help their clients secure one.

NCFY: Why is youth employment important for helping youth achieve self-sufficiency?

Jiffy Lansing: First, if youth can be connected to employment, especially jobs that can lead to more responsibility and opportunity along the way, that brings in money.

And for youth who have been disconnected from school or work [because of homelessness or poverty], this is a way of connecting them to some pro-social experiences that can increase their confidence and resilience.

NCFY: How do you define a “promising” occupation for this population?

M.C. Bradley: We thought about earnings first. We asked, “What’s a reasonable threshold for what a young person needs in order to be self-sufficient?” And we wanted to identify occupations where there’s actually growth. Jobs where someone could come in at an entry level and have a career trajectory.

The earnings number we came up with was $25,000 annually. We looked at a variety of sources to arrive at this number: the national median income, the eligibility requirements for federal programs and the living wage literature. We made some assumptions that the young people would be living with another adult, there’d be a child in the household, and they would need to bring in 60 percent of the income in that household.

Lansing: Depending on where somebody lives, $25,000 might not be the appropriate threshold. But we were looking broadly across the country.

NCFY: And what jobs qualify?

Bradley: The health care and construction fields offered a lot of jobs that matched our criteria. Those may not be the right jobs for a particular program’s youth, particularly healthcare, because there are requirements about drug testing and no criminal record. So you need to think carefully about that and the population you’re serving, and where you are. Because not all communities are going to have the same growth in healthcare or construction as others.

Lansing: Most localities have workforce development boards, which can be found on the Internet, that show the projected growth occupations for their specific area. Another source that we think is a good place to look is local community colleges.

NCFY: How can runaway and homeless youth service providers use this information?

Bradley: They can use this brief to connect with local agencies that have information about the job market in their area, as well as training and education that can get youth on the track to getting those jobs.

Some of these youth need ID’s, clothes and school records to put them in a position for a job, and youth workers can help them get these. And they can help them create resumes and prepare for interviews. They can provide youth with a chance to explore and link their interests to what they might like to do.

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