Connecting At-Risk Youth to Promising Occupations

Millions of youth across the nation are at risk of not achieving economic self-sufficiency as they transition to adulthood. Connection to promising careers is one critical condition for them to achieve stability. But many at-risk youth may also need tailored learning programs and additional support, including housing and health services, to succeed.

What we did

To identify promising occupations we focused on four key features:

  1. Median earnings level
  2. Education and training prerequisites
  3. Projected growth in labor-market demand
  4. Potential for individual advancement

These features correspond to the need of many at-risk youth to secure an occupation that pays a reasonable wage without investing extensive resources in training.

For this brief, we have chosen to focus on two large fields: health care and construction. These two fields have a variety of jobs that pay wages of at least $25,000 annually, have modest education or training requirements, are identified as fast-growing, and offer opportunities for advancement. The fields have also been the focus for a variety of work-based learning programs.

What we found

Overall, we identified 13 occupations in the health care industry that meet our criteria for promising occupations. Four noteworthy examples of promising entry-level positions include:

  • Licensed practical nurse and licensed vocational nurse
  • Dental assistant
  • Dental hygienist
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer

We identified 14 promising occupations in the construction and extraction occupations group. Many occupations in construction require little formal, school-based education, but they do require apprenticeships. The increase in the share of nonwhite apprentices over the past years suggests that apprenticeship programs may be more of an option for minority at-risk youth than they were in the past. The following occupations in construction are expected to grow at faster-than-average rates from 2010 through 2020:

  • Boilermaker
  • Brickmason
  • Blockmason
  • Stonemason
  • Carpenter
  • Electrician
  • Glazier
  • Plumber
  • Structural iron and steel worker

Many policymakers and workforce and educational organizations are embracing “career pathway” programs. This model explicitly supports people who are moving from training to employment, whether they are at-risk youth or not. The model has a strong connection with local employers and integrates innovative instructional strategies with learning supports.

What it means

When designing and implementing the work-based learning programs we identified as promising, additional supports should be considered. Individuals who have witnessed violence or experienced trauma such as abuse or abandonment, for example, may need additional forms of assistance to help them cope and develop the basic capacity to trust and constructively relate to others. Homeless and runaway youth, youth aging out of foster care, teen parents, and juvenile offenders may need special attention that goes beyond career preparation and work-based learning. Aligned with the conceptual framework developed for the Administration for Children and Families as part of this research, additional services and supports may include housing, child care, mental health or other health care services, mentoring, or parenting education.

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