Profiles four promising best practices from California Community Based Organizations that link disconnected youth to education and work opportunities, and illustrates how these organizations can be a model for similar work elsewhere.

“The country is facing a dual crisis in youth unemployment and low postsecondary completion rates. Both are especially prevalent among low-income and minority young people. Across the nation, nearly seven million young people [17 percent of people ages 16 to 24] are neither in school nor part of the labor market…This group includes both those who have a high school credential but have not continued into postsecondary education and/or the workplace, and those who have left school without a high school diploma and have few if any educational or job prospects” (p.1).

“This paper shows the vital role of community-based organizations in addressing this dual crisis. [It uses] ideas and examples…based on the groundbreaking work of four community-based organizations in California that participated in Opportunity Links for Youth, an initiative supported by the James Irvine Foundation. With support from Jobs for the Future, these CBOs are tackling the essential work of helping 18 to 25 year olds develop the skills and credentials they need for entry into and advancement in growth sectors of the economy” (p.2).

“This report highlights how in the current moment— with the renewed attention among policymakers, advocates and practitioners to the young people who are neither in school nor working and growing investment in career pathways—it is especially important to understand how community organizations contribute to making such pathways work for young people. The report then graphically presents the ‘on-ramps’ being built by each of the Opportunity Links CBOs and describes how these organizations, drawing on their unique strengths and histories, each were able to develop programming that enables young people to take specific steps toward their future. In addition, the report provides information on the cost of such designs and the funding streams and strategies that could support them. The report concludes with an analysis of the potential return on investment of on-ramps, and the local, state, and federal actions that can make such investments possible” (p.2).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

This report identifies “intentionally designed ‘on-ramps’ toward career pathways that culminate in postsecondary attainment and a good career” (p. 5) as a result of the successes of the four profiled Community Based Organizations: Taller San Jose, First Place for Youth, Youth Radio, and Youth Uprising. The authors explain that based on an analysis of these organizations’ program models, they found that “Young people often need considerable support on their journeys. The essential elements and qualities of on-ramp programs include: • A ‘front door’ that young people can find and where they feel welcome • Education that helps them close gaps in their foundational skills within the context of career exploration/possibilities • Guidance and training in the 21st-century skills many employers need (e.g., communication, critical thinking, creativity) • Opportunities for career exploration, work-based experiences and work-based learning • Support in stabilizing their lives and developing the tenacity and grit required for the sometimes bumpy road to gainful employment • Postsecondary bridge programs and related supports that build students’ college- and career-ready skills, and provide informed counseling and services to ensure postsecondary persistence and support” (p.5). The resource also provides illustrations of each CBO’s program model and combines them with stories of successful participants. The resource concludes with recommendations for ways CBO’s can make the case for funding, which the authors note is very important: “The expansion of high-quality educational on-ramps is unlikely to occur without stable funding. Unlike school district and postsecondary institutions, community organizations are often loosely affiliated and do not have a steady stream of public funding. Instead, they typically operate as entrepreneurial entities doing work that often goes unrecognized at the state and national level. They cobble together public and private dollars from year to year—often in competing with one another for limited local funding” (p.14). The recommendations include showing the return on investment for the programs and “leveraging state/regional and federal policy” (p.20). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)