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What’s Working: Could Better Data Improve Youth Employment?

This article is part of the “What’s Working” series, which highlights promising practices for helping to close the graduation gap in communities and states across the country.

If you had a million dollars, how would you use it to help young people find jobs? If you could change or create one policy to support youth employment, what would it be?

Youth development experts tackled these questions at the 11th Annual JAG National Thought Leader Event on Oct. 11.  Panelists and speakers included Hispanic Heritage Foundation President Antonio Tijerino, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, Congressman Bradley Byrne, and many others.

The event provided panels on urban areas, rural areas, and an opportunity for participants to brainstorm solutions to youth unemployment.

Though there were a variety of recommendations—all of which will eventually be presented to the governor of each state—two major themes emerged: 1) invest in more quality data, and 2) invest in and encourage career and technical education, particularly when it comes to STEM.

The Misleading Story of Data

Gallup Executive Director of Education and Workforce Development Brandon Busteed revealed some sobering inconsistences in national data sets.

For example, though the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, college enrollment is on a steady decline, he said. And while the unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in years, 94 percent of the 10 million jobs created between 2005-2015 are temporary or part-time, according to this study.

Brandon Busteed
Photo credit: Eric Lee

Furthermore, only half of college graduates say their college degree was worth the cost, according to the Gallup-Purdue Index Report 2015.

Busteed said the country should evaluate success not only by how many students are getting degrees, but how many are going on to get full-time jobs in their area of study.

Many panelists and participants said they would use more funding to invest in research and get data on which young people they are serving and what they need to be more successful.

More than One Path to Adult Success

Throughout the day, speakers and panelists said national policies should encourage young people to see that a four-year degree is not the only path to getting a job that pays family-sustaining wages.

Congressman Byrne said he would like to see an increase in funding for the Perkins CTE Act, and Labor Secretary Acosta pointed to the high salaries that are possible with careers like welding.

“In many subtle ways, national policies and education send signals that some jobs are better than others,” Acosta said.



Tijerino pointed to the skills gap and STEM, and said many students he’s worked with who are learning to speak English say that learning to code is easier than learning English.

He proposed replicating a Hispanic Heritage Foundation initiative, Code as a Second Language, and allowing young people nationwide to use computer science as math credits and coding classes as language credits.

Additional Recommendations: More Broadband, Flexibility in Funding

Several panelists and participants pointed out that many rural areas lack access to broadband internet, which prevents them from being able to do their homework. Many would use funding to provide rural students with access to broadband and technology.

Other recommendations from panelists and the audience included allowing for flexibility on how rural and urban areas allocate funding; putting more guidance counselors and mentors in schools; and applying work opportunity tax credits to youth transitioning out of foster care.

America’s Promise CEO John Gomperts
Photo credit: Eric Lee

America’s Promise CEO John Gomperts presented the six action areas that the GradNation campaign will focus on in the coming years, one of which includes using high quality data.

“We have to make high school graduation a more accurate indicator of success,” he said, so that a diploma signals young people are ready for the next step in their lives, whatever that may be.

Gomperts added that though raising graduation rates is a challenging task, it is entirely possible. “We’ve just got to get focused and show how much we care,” he said. “We have to show the kind of persistence that we would ask of any high school student.”

Learn more about the GradNation State Activation initiative

The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging statewide innovation and collaboration, sharing that knowledge and replicating what works, and developing successful models all states can replicate.

Join the GradNation Learning Community

To get more news about graduation rates and effective practices to increase them, join the GradNation Learning Community, a hub for sharing strategies and successful practices. Just send an email to [email protected] with your name, email address and organizational affiliation. To join the conversation on Twitter, use #GradNation