Get Our Nation’s Disconnected Youth Back on Track to Economic Mobility

Enact the Bipartisan Youth Workforce Readiness Act of 2021

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Today, more than 4.4 million young people ages 16-24 are disconnected from society - neither working nor in school. Since the start of the pandemic, unemployment for this generation – Gen Z – has significantly increased from 8.4 to 24.4 percent and many students are unsure what their future holds. Many more students lack access to critical opportunities and relationships to discover their potential. Now, help is on the way for today’s young people, with the introduction of the bipartisan Youth Workforce Readiness Act of 2021.

The Bill focuses on a long-term solution to increase opportunities for youth skill-building and engagement through the establishment of a competitive Labor Department grant program to support afterschool and summer youth-serving organizations’ workforce readiness programs for students ages six to 18 years old. 

If enacted, this legislation would open opportunities for millions of young people to have equitable access to comprehensive afterschool and summer learning programs that incorporate the four pillars of workforce readiness, including essential-skill development, career exposure, employability and certification, and work-based learning. Programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which provide valuable experiences and relationships that help students develop career skills and understand their options for future careers, serve to keep students engaged in learning and on a positive trajectory in life. For the 2018-2019 Youth of the Year, Malachi H., involvement in the Boys and Girls Club helped him to develop applicable skills like speech writing, mentoring, and leadership that he plans to use in a kinesiology career.

Early career exposure and work-based learning are important tools to ensure students stay engaged with their education, develop career skills, form a workplace identity, and build the social capital necessary for career success. Young people like Malachi are examples of the success these programs can help students achieve. However, a 2020 ASA survey found that only 34 percent of students were aware of work-based learning experiences for high school students.

Nationwide, only seven states, including Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Washington, have comprehensive, statewide communications infrastructure in place to ensure all stakeholders — students, families, educators, and employers — have access to information about work-based learning opportunities. This means that most students do not have the opportunity to gain workplace skills prior to leaving high school or build relationships with adult professionals who can support their career journey. This knowledge and access gap must be closed if we want to ensure our young people stay active in learning and the workforce as they grow older.

While we must further expand these critical experiences as a part of the school day in every district across the country, we must also look to models in partners and community organizations who can support these efforts and educators. Opportunities like internships, work-shadow experiences, entrepreneurial experiences, or career-focused competitions, are often coordinated outside of school rather than as part of the academic schedule. Millions of teens like Malachi already participate in organized out-of-school programs annually provided by organizations like the Boys and Girls Club. 

Another example is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Mentoring Resource Center, which has worked with MENTOR to serve nearly 132,000 young people through mentoring programs at 489 organizations. 

These afterschool opportunities provide support to youth, both socially and academically, and ensure they have the resources necessary to succeed. The Youth Workforce Readiness Act will enhance the efforts of out-of-school youth providers and ensure they can deliver the high-quality career-focused programming that is essential to thriving well into their futures.

We urge Congress to pass the Youth Workforce Readiness Act, so we can engage disconnected youth and help them to achieve long-term economic mobility.

The devastation this pandemic has had on the lives of our youth does not have to define their generation. By working together with the support of the Youth Workforce Readiness Act, the U.S. can ensure our future generations are ready and equipped for success.

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