This Workforce Development Board Bolsters Its Youth Re-Engagement Efforts With Technology


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One of the biggest challenges for regional workforce development boards has been focusing more on out-of-school than in-school youth, since the passage of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014.

Prior to the law’s signing, equal emphasis was placed on both groups, so the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County began working with partners to engage youth who are not in school and out of work.

The Seattle area's overall unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 is 13 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while the city of Seattle’s rate is 16 percent. Both rates are relatively good by national standards. But in neighborhoods in Seattle's Rainier Valley, the rate is 20.5 percent; in southern King County, it's 20.4 percent rate. Those figures are dismal and require innovative youth outreach.

“In the past, one strategy had been: Let’s serve the people who come through door,” Sarah Chavez, director of youth initiatives for the council, said in an interview.

Several federal grants from the Department of Labor constitute the majority of the workforce council’s funding, Chavez said, but that funding doesn’t meet every need. Seattle-King County was one of 10 sites selected for Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth, discretionary funds for testing innovative, cost-effective engagement strategies.

Seattle-King County’s strategy, in part, focused on recruiting AmeriCorps members for a grassroots, door-to-door youth engagement initiative. One of the region’s workforce sites is also focused specifically on youth.

WIOA enrollees are typically tracked until they’re connected with post-secondary education or unsubsidized employment. Aside from demographic data to determine eligibility like high school dropout status and family income, gender, ethnicity, services received and information from literacy and numeracy games are also recorded.

The council is exploring even more creative ways of connecting with local out-of-work youth, including using technology. Google Maps can assist with prioritizing high-risk neighborhoods for grassroots efforts, and Monster Government Solutions’ personality assessment tool, called Woofound, can be taken on a smartphone.

“We brought Woofound to them right away because they’re one of the most innovative workforce boards in the country,” said Bruce Stephen, Monster’s real-time labor intelligence market research director.

By inputting preferences, youth use Woofound to learn what their ideal job might be—not that they’re stuck with the result. A case manager will then help the youth develop an individual service strategy that takes their college and career aspirations into account.

It’s possible that before using the Woofound tool, they may have only thought of themselves suitable for one sector and neglected to consider a job in, say, health care, Stephen said.

“We use it mainly as a conversation starter,” Chavez said. “It’s a fun way to get at what your preferences and personality type are.”

Once a year, the council runs a Map Your Careers graphic in The Seattle Times illustrating the type of training needed for various careers, as opposed to getting a four-year college degree that might not be affordable.

Chavez’s team also actively promotes local career planning opportunities across social media.

“To really engage this population it takes a village, but part of the village is tech,” Stephen said. “Starting with social media is a good way to break in.”

Youth counselors can use Twitter or Facebook to check in with clients.

From there, workforce development boards can adopt inexpensive products like Woofound for deployment at the career center level, Stephen said.

The next step is expanding an online presence through a portal built according to agency needs.

Monster helped set up the large OhioMeansJobs portal as a clearinghouse of sorts for career information and opportunities for residents, including youth. A smaller portal might simply direct youth to jobs or education resources, Stephen said.

Tightly integrating technology with youth programs is key, he added, so boards should be on the lookout for partnerships and ensure they have an understanding of their resource network.

Washington is one of the few states where the education dollars allotted for each student follow the youth, even if they drop out of school. Most of the time that money stays with the school, but in the Evergreen State, governments can pay for that dropout to re-engage in a GED program at a later date with their funds.

Monster also hosts youth-based workshops like the Making It Count program, teaching how to conduct a job search and go through the college application process, and others teaching young women digital and video production skills.

Whatever programs an area chooses to pursue, data collection like the kind done in Seattle-King County’s jurisdiction is important to gauge effectiveness.

“Labor data can be used to secure grant funding,” Stephen said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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