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Report: few resources for young job seekers

Young adults not in college face daunting odds in search for jobs paying living wage

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO

Across Massachusetts, school districts have adopted exacting new standards to prepare students for college. Nearly half of the state’s workforce has a college degree.

But for the other half — those who never finish college or those who never start — the path to employment success is riddled with pitfalls, according to a report released this week by a coalition of agencies working with young adults.

The report was compiled by the Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative, a group of government and nonprofit agencies working to help recent high school graduates and dropouts to find gainful employment that enables them to become financially independent. Among its findings are that few programs exist to help young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 find careers.The coalition counted 7,369 people in that age group in the Boston area with high school credentials who were not enrolled in college or career training, but only 950 program seats available for them to connect with job training opportunities.

“Nationwide, the conversation is always focused on college,” said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council. “Yet most young adults will not receive a college degree. The early 20s is something of a blind spot. Not a lot of time and attention has been dedicated to people with no college degree. It’s not a small subgroup. It’s the majority of people in America.”

Sullivan joined with other nonprofits and government agencies to open a one-stop career center where young adults were given assistance accessing education, training and employment services. The Connection Center, as it was called, operated between 2015 and 2017, reaching 502 young people over the nearly two-and-a-half years it remained open. Of that number, 269 applied to education and training programs, 198 enrolled and 111 completed a program.

Challenges facing the young adults who sought training opportunities included lack of access to a car (required for some forms of work), lack of a stable living space, lack of access to child care and unpaid tuition bills.

Although the funding for the Connection Center ran out, the Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative will use what members learned from operating the Connection Center to better inform their work with young adults, Sullivan said.

“The Opportunity Youth collaboration is a first step into a very large socioeconomic issue,” he said. “We’re a society that has lost its focus on occupational training.”

In the report, titled “New Directions: Creating Career Pathways For and With Opportunity Youth,” coalition members highlight key takeaways from the experiences of young adults who accessed the Connection Center, and make recommendations for future efforts.

Among the report’s recomendations:

  •  Minimize young adults’ time in “developmental education” — remedial courses taught at community colleges that don’t enable students to accrue credits toward a degree.
  • Enable young adults to explore varied career interests in high-demand fields. Connection Center staff found that youth often joined training programs, only to later realize they weren’t interested in a particular career path.
  • Give youth better access to training programs. Many young adults are not ready for the training programs that offer access to high-paying jobs. The Opportunity Youth Collaborative recommends the creation of “on-ramp” programs to help prepare youth to succeed in high-expectation occupational training programs.
  • Better coordination between youth-serving organizations. Public and private funders should create incentives and remove barriers to collaboration between large and small nonprofits that serve young adults. Additionally, an intermediary or government agency should develop a guide to education, career and social service opportunities for young adults.
  • Provide more effective outreach. Institutions providing training should work harder to reach young adults. High schools, colleges and workforce providers can increase coordination to build referral systems that keep youth connected to education and career-oriented employment.

Sullivan said coalition members are committed to seeing the recommendations implemented.

“The scale is enormous,” he said. “But we can’t let that deter us.”

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