Young People’s Experiences Navigating the World of Work

A report released by The YES Project at America’s Promise Alliance provides key insights into young people’s conceptions of the changing employment landscape and what it means to be ready for, connected to, and supported within today’s world of work.

Drawing from interviews with 65 young people, ages 16-28, who are participants in one of five career pathways programs across the country, Finding a Way Forward concludes that they have a more holistic view of career development than traditional models. Participants emphasized that education and skills training are crucial, but not enough. They described becoming “work and career ready” as a complex, ongoing process that also includes identity development, adaptability, and relationship building.

The young people whose voices shaped the report represent groups that are often excluded from policy conversations—youth of color, those from families of immigrants, and those from poor and working-class backgrounds; populations that are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19. While data collection for the study was completed just before the pandemic, the report notes that the findings are even more urgent now, as the disparate effects of COVID-19 risk exacerbating inequitable professional opportunities and outcomes, particularly for young people of color who are un- or under-employed.

The study’s authors conclude that that many longstanding approaches to supporting youth employment do not adequately recognize the way that young people experience the world. They assert that building career pathways for young people requires comprehensive, youth-centered strategies that do not separate skills from identities, work lives from personal lives, school from work, and individuals from contexts. The report points to five areas for the field’s attention, each of which has implications for research, policy, and practice:

  1. Adopt a whole-person approach to career and workforce development. 
  2. Dismantle systemic barriers to workforce development and participation.
  3. Support diverse pathways to and through the world of work.
  4. Enable young people to leverage existing connections and develop new ones.
  5. Encourage lifelong learning as a career mindset.

Each recommendation is accompanied by “take action” examples that highlight how some organizations and systems are exemplifying aspects of the five areas.

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