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Prosperity Now: Youth Workforce Programs Step Up to Meet the Needs of Young Adults During COVID-19

Youth Workforce Programs Step Up to Meet the Needs of Young Adults During COVID-19

Prosperity Now
August 12, 2020

Since 2017, Prosperity Now has provided strategic coaching, one-on-one technical assistance and facilitation support to five youth workforce programs interested in embedding financial education, coaching and other financial capability services into their programs. These activities are supported by the Youth Financial Capability Fund, an initiative of the Citi Foundation. As COVID-19 began shutting down businesses, schools and nonprofits, Prosperity Now convened our youth workforce partners—Juma Ventures, NPower, Urban Alliance, STRIVE International and Genesys Works—to hear how they are responding to the crisis and create space for idea generation, sharing and moral support.

We learned that our partners are focusing on maintaining the financial stability of their program participants, reallocating staff time and program resources to meet young people’s needs, continuing to provide meaningful work experiences while maintaining participants’ safety, preparing program participants for virtual work and supporting staff’s health and well-being during the crisis. The following examples speak to the incredible contributions, agility and responsiveness of our youth workforce partners during a challenging time for the nonprofit industry.

Maintaining the financial stability of program participants. Recognizing the liquidity needs of program participants during the crisis, Juma Ventures, a youth workforce program which promotes financial capabilities through matched savings and program incentives, allowed participants to access funds regardless of meeting their savings goals. Juma’s regional offices in Atlanta, Houston, Sacramento, the Bay Area, San Jose and Seattle adopted this model, freeing cash for young people to use for immediate needs.

To help sustain cash flow to program participants, NPower, a national youth workforce program with a focus on tech and digital careers, launched a Student Emergency Success Fund with the generous support of funders. This fund provides emergency assistance to the most vulnerable students who are struggling financially, experiencing food/housing insecurities and other barriers that could negatively impact their ability to be successful in the program. Additionally, NPower developed mock internship experiences where students continue to be paid for completing simulated micro-projects (see description below).

Reallocating staff time and program resources to support virtual service delivery. Our youth workforce partners are making strategic decisions about how to spend their staffs’ time and program resources. For example, when the crisis forced Urban Alliance to move job readiness classes online, the leadership team shifted classes, which are usually taught by regional staff, to a national, virtual classroom taught by national staff. The goal was to free up time for regional staff to prioritize one-on-one connections with students. The events were a success, with more than 400 students joining each session. Urban Alliance used Zoom’s live polling and chat features to increase engagement, and students were excited to connect to peers in other regions for the first time.

Staff time is just one resource that can be reallocated. With program participants more likely to stay at home, funds used for transportation can also be reallocated. NPower allocated funding for transportation stipends to purchase laptops and Wi-Fi cards for their program participants in need when their program was forced to go virtual during the pandemic. Similarly, Genesys Works surveyed all participants to take stock of their access to computers and then applied for a grant to obtain additional computers, which they’ve loaned to program participants.

Providing meaningful work experience while ensuring participants’ safety. With the onset of COVID-19, most program participants’ work experiences were suspended. In an effort to still create a meaningful learning experience for participants, NPower designed a mock internship program in which program participants are assigned a real-world challenge and develop solutions that they present to corporate partners. During the internship, participants meet 30 minutes per day with a corporate supervisor and on a regular basis with a volunteer career coach for professional development support. Genesys Works also provided students whose internships were suspended with an earn and learn opportunity. They were given options to participate in online learning resources to continue to build out their skillsets, while still earning their internship wage. Genesys Works utilized LinkedIn Learning, Salesforce Trailhead and Coursera to ensure students could continue their professional development.

In instances where employer partners (i.e., those who host students as interns or workers) are reopening businesses, our partners are facing difficult decisions about whether to allow program participants to restart their work experiences. Youth workforce programs want young people to gain job experience, but they worry that allowing young people to return to on-site placements puts their health and safety at risk. Urban Alliance decided to follow the school district’s policy when determining whether young people should return to their internship placements. The rationale was that if teachers and students aren’t returning to school, they can’t ask their participants to return to their internships. Other youth workforce programs, like Genesys Works and NPower, are having conversations with program participants to gauge their comfort returning to work and following local government policies.

Preparing participants for virtual work. As the world has gone virtual, our youth workforce partners have been preparing participants for virtual work. NPower is teaching virtual project management as a skill, virtual interviewing etiquette and best practices for attire and executive presence on a video conference. They recently invited a panelist to talk with students about “a day in the life of a remote worker.” Urban Alliance is still using mentors to conduct mock interviews with students virtually, and STRIVE International, a job training and career development nonprofit with partners across the country, continues to offer a series of virtual credentials for jobs in food safety, retail and construction. These sectors are among those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, so while the virtual credentials continue to be offered, transitioning youth from the credentialing program to employment has been challenging. STRIVE International is exploring how to build the credentialing programs’ learning objectives—e.g., a focus on customer service, professional look and employabilty, technology and time management, and effective communication and accountability—into STRIVE’s young adult programming. Genesys Works moved their in-person skills training component to a completely virtual platform and added modules to address remote working conditions to better equip students for remote internships in the fall. The added benefit was that it provided more opportunity for collaboration – members of national staff, as well as leaders from their partner companies, are able to join the local classes more easily and bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the sessions.

Supporting staff during the crisis. Throughout the crisis, our youth workforce program leaders have been cognizant of the mental and emotional toll COVID-19 and subsequent remote work have had on staff. At the start of the crisis, NPower wrote a Zoom training guide and took a week to train staff on remote service delivery. Later, NPower created and disseminated a survey to assess staff well-being, asking what resources they needed to work remotely and if they felt comfortable returning to the office. Recognizing the “collective trauma” of the crisis, the alumni and savings program manager at Juma is revisiting trauma-informed training for staff and leadership. The national program manager at STRIVE International has been reaching out to case managers, who are, in his words, “the backbones of our organization,” to see how they are doing and express how important they are to the organization. Senior leaders at Juma and Genesys Works sent handwritten letters and gifts to program managers as small gestures to say, “I see you. I appreciate you.” And at Urban Alliance, national staff asked students to nominate regional staff for awards and announced the winners during a national assembly as a way to boost morale and recognize staff.

The deep thought and attention our youth workforce partners have given to their staffs’ well-being mirrors the care and commitment they have shown program participants. Whether identifying innovative ways to maintain young people’s financial stability, reallocating funds and resources, sustaining meaningful work experiences or preparing young people for virtual work, our youth workforce partners have stepped up to meet the needs of their program participants and demonstrated commitment, compassion and agility during trying times. We commend you for your important work and are honored to be your partner.