Press Release

Report Examines Young People’s Experiences Navigating the World of Work

Calls for new, “youth-centered” approach to career and workforce development

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A report released today by The YES Project at America’s Promise Alliance provides key insights into young people’s conceptions of the changing employment landscape and what it means to be ready for, connected to, and supported within today’s world of work.

Drawing from interviews with 65 young people, ages 16-28, who are participants in one of five career pathways programs across the country, Finding a Way Forward concludes that they have a more holistic view of career development than traditional models. Participants emphasized that education and skills training are crucial, but not enough. They described becoming “work and career ready” as a complex, ongoing process that also includes identity development, adaptability, and relationship building.

The young people whose voices shaped the report represent groups that are often excluded from policy conversations—youth of color, those from families of immigrants, and those from poor and working-class backgrounds; populations that are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19. While data collection for the study was completed just before the pandemic, the report notes that the findings are even more urgent now, as the disparate effects of COVID-19 risk exacerbating inequitable professional opportunities and outcomes, particularly for young people of color who are un- or under-employed.

“At a time of record youth unemployment, it’s crucial that we listen to, learn from, and support the young people struggling most to navigate a daunting job market,” said Dennis Vega, interim president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “This report makes clear the need for a whole-person, youth-centered approach to career and workforce development that recognizes the broader context of young people’s lives.”

The study offers findings tied to each of the core concepts of the YES Project’s Ready, Connected, Supported framework:

  1. Young people have a holistic view of readiness that includes what they’ve learned, what they can do, knowing who they are, and adapting to change.
  2. Young people believe connections and social capital are essential for navigating their career journeys—but often struggle to build them.
  3. Young people’s work and life roles are not siloed from one another; they require a multi-dimensional, whole-person approach to support.

Based on these findings, the study’s authors conclude that that many longstanding approaches to supporting youth employment do not adequately recognize the way that young people experience the world. They assert that building career pathways for young people requires comprehensive, youth-centered strategies that do not separate skills from identities, work lives from personal lives, school from work, and individuals from contexts. The report points to five areas for the field’s attention, each of which has implications for research, policy, and practice:

  1. Adopt a whole-person approach to career and workforce development. 
  2. Dismantle systemic barriers to workforce development and participation.
  3. Support diverse pathways to and through the world of work.
  4. Enable young people to leverage existing connections and develop new ones.
  5. Encourage lifelong learning as a career mindset.

Each recommendation is accompanied by “take action” examples that highlight how some organizations and systems are exemplifying aspects of the five areas.

The study was conducted by the Center for Promise, the applied research institute of America’s Promise Alliance. Finding a Way Forward advances the Center’s tradition of youth-centered research, beginning with Don’t Call Them Dropouts and Don't Quit on Me, and builds on more recent work on Webs of Support and career pathways for disconnected youth. The report and the qualitative research it presents were generously supported by AT&T, Carnegie Corporation of New York and State Farm.

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The YES Project—Young, Employed, Successful—engages America’s Promise Alliance and its partners in unifying the nation to reach a major collective goal: every young person seeking a job can find a job. www.AmericasPromise.org/YES

America’s Promise Alliance is the driving force behind a nationwide movement to improve the lives and futures of America’s youth. Its work is anchored in the belief that every young person deserves to succeed, and every adult is responsible for making that happen. By bringing together hundreds of national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens, and young people, the Alliance does what no single organization can do on its own: catalyze action on a scale that reaches millions of young people. www.AmericasPromise.org