Turning Point Cover


The Role Relationships Play in Preparing Young People for the Workforce

Elizabeth Pufall Jones

A mentor, a teacher, an advisor, a friend; a web of relationships to support you. New research says that webs of relationships provide unique support necessary to foster the success of the 5.6 million opportunity youth in the United States, 16-24 year-olds not working and not in school. 

Previous research from the Center for Promise indicates that relationships provide the various supports needed for school engagement and educational outcomes, including for young people who have experienced high levels of adversity. Two of our latest reports, Relationships Come First and Turning Points, demonstrate that this is also true for their success in the workforce.

Further, our research indicates that a young person’s success does not hinge on the intervention of a superhero. Instead, building a web of support – the constellation of people who provide an array of supports – facilitates positive developmental outcomes for youth in education and life.

Why are career readiness programs important? What makes them successful? What do young people say about the relationships they formed in these programs? Watch the video to find out.

To understand the role that relationships can play in youth’s career pathway, we worked with a sub-set of Youth Opportunity Fund grantees that are implementing intensive career pathways programming:

  • Café Momentum in Dallas, Texas
  • Per Scholas in the Bronx, New York
  • Urban Alliance in Washington, DC,
  • Year Up in the Bay Area, Calif.

In Relationships Come First, we examined archival documents from the programs and conducted interviews with key players in each of the programs to see how they integrate relationships into their missions and work with the young people they serve.

For the Turning Points report, we conducted 12 group interviews with 74 youth from these four programs and follow-up individual interviews one month later with 17 youth. Here’s what we found:

Major Findings about Relationships

Relationships come first. In addition to the elements of traditional career development and workforce readiness – job skills, career management skills, and social and life skills that are important to navigating career pathways – we found that all four programs place relationship-building at the forefront of their model. These programs realize that high adversity settings can have deleterious effect on a young person’s trust as well as on the availability of positive supportive relationships, and thus place relationships at the forefront of their programming in an effort to have the greatest impact in the lives of their youth.

Webs of support are integral to the program design. Each program functions as a web of support; adults and peers with in the program play different roles and offer a variety of supports to young people through multiple strategies. Relationships at the program act as models so that young people can build relational capacity and competencies to meet their current needs and strengths and those in their future.

Complementing these findings, during our interviews with young people for Turning Points, the young people described the relationships they experienced at career pathways programs as scaffolding their positive development.

Moop's Depiction of Her Web with an Overlay of the Cores

Interviews provided an opportunity for young people to draw their own webs of support, two of which are included in the Turning Points report.

Moop's Depiction of Her Web with an overlay of the cores

Want to know more about webs of support? Read our research brief, Defining Webs of Support: A New Framework to Advance Understanding about Relationships and Youth Development.

Relationships endure and extend beyond the program. Each program fosters webs of support for their participants beyond the structured intervention so that each graduate has a system of relationships in place to help them stay on a path to adult success. Further, each program offers alumni support so that relationships and webs endure beyond graduation.

Relationship-building approaches differ depending on who the program serves. While all of the programs see the importance of relationships, they all take a different approach to how relationships are developed and supported, given the needs and strengths of the youth in their program. For example, if the young people have a high level of distrust for adults, the program might place a greater emphasis on building trust with them. Or, if the young people come from contexts that lack resources the program might place a greater emphasis on a case management approach.

We also found, in Turning Points, that a young person's web of support is a dynamic system. Young people access different cores (or clusters of relationships that are usually concentrated around certain contexts) at different times according to the individual's changing needs and the degree to which a given core is responsive to those needs. 

Youth Opportunity Fund - Female Participant

By investing in young people’s futures, career readiness programs are investing in our country’s future.

‘I got somebody to support me here’

The young people we interviewed for Turning Points all spoke about the importance of the relationships in the career pathways programs: “Ever since I got here they been embracing me, it feel like family,” said Artim, a 17-year-old male from Café Momentum.

And Molly, a 23-year-old female from Year Up Bay Area, spoke of both staff and peer support: “I just felt like I got somebody to support me here. [My adviser] she’s like all in my face, she wants to know everything about me, and stuff like that. Like she’s telling me she’s gonna support me. And also my classmates, like my [Learning Community], my LC is really big on supporting each other.”

Young people like Artim and Molly need people and places that invest in them. By investing in them, creating relationships, these programs are investing in their future, and our country’s future. A country where young people have the opportunity for employment that offers economic and employment stability is a hopeful country with a prosperous future.

For more information on how the role relationships play in career readiness programs, read Relationships Come First: How Four Career Development and Workforce Readiness Programs Prepare Young People for Work and Life.

To learn about the four different kinds of relationships that impact young people’s development, read Turning Points: How Young People in Four Career Pathways Programs Describe the Relationships that Shape Their Lives.