Youth, Relationships, and Career Readiness



Youth, Relationships, and Career Readiness

Two new reports explore how relationships impact young people at work and in life

Release date:

March 01, 2017

Relationships Matter and Turning Points: two different studies, with one major takeaway: It is not just a single relationship, but rather a dynamic web of support, that stands the best shot of preparing young people for work and for life. The research studies from the Center for Promise at America’s Promise Alliance focus on the role of relationships in the lives of risk-immersed young people enrolled in four career pathways programs. The four organizations highlighted in the report are  Youth Opportunity Fund community partners.


Two research studies from the Center for Promise at America’s Promise Alliance focus on the role of relationships in the lives of risk-immersed young people enrolled in four career pathways programs: Café Momentum in Dallas, Per Scholas in the Bronx, Urban Alliance in Washington, D.C., and Year Up in the Bay Area. 

Programs that provide pathways to work and career development can be an important bridge between young people who are not prepared for work and the jobs that are available in their communities.


“What role do relationships play in career pathways programs? Watch the video above to learn how Year Up fostered a web of support that helped Kris stay on a path towards a successful career.”


The four career pathways programs studied here are Youth Opportunity Fund community partners supported by the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative. Pathways to Progress launched in 2014 in the United States with a $50 million, three-year commitment that helped more than 100,000 young people, ages 16-24, across ten cities to become career-ready through first jobs, internships, and leadership and entrepreneurship training. In February 2017 the Citi Foundation announced a global expansion of the Pathways to Progress initiative with a $100 million, three-year investment to prepare 500,000 young people for today’s competitive job market.

The Youth Opportunity Fund, led by the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise Alliance, provides grants to nonprofits working in innovative ways to place low-income young adults on a path toward college and career success in in cities across the United States.

"Understanding the quality, depth, and duration of the constellation of relationships that young people have in all parts of their lives can help career pathways programs maximize the impact of interventions that help formerly disconnected young people achieve early success in the worlds of work and career."


“If you don’t have the right support system, you kind of lose track,” says Urban Alliance alum Menbere. “I don’t know what I would do without my teacher, my family, and friends.” Learn how Menbere leveraged relationships from Urban Alliance to launch her own nonprofit in the video above.

Relationships Come First
Relationships Come First

Relationships Come First report coverRelationships Come First, describes the central role relationships play in the vision and design of the four career pathways programs. Based on interviews with program administrators and staff, this study describes each career development and workforce readiness program in more detail and shares findings and common themes that emerged across program sites.

As the title implies, this report found that each of the four programs places relationship-building between young people and program staff at the forefront of their models. Relationships Come First also discovered that these relationships often endure and extend beyond the program; relationship-building approaches differ depending upon the strengths and needs of the young person; and in each program, there’s more than just one adult focused on the young people’s well-being and development.

These programs provide what the researchers refer to as a web of support—a network of individuals that provides a young person with varying levels and types of support.

For more information on the findings, visit Relationships Come First: How Four Career Development and Workforce Readiness Programs Prepare Young People for Work and Life. 

Turning Points
Turning Points

In Turning Points, researchers asked youth participants enrolled in these career pathways programs how the relationships that surround them influenced their development. Using young people’s own words, this report illuminates the ways that significant people in program participants’ lives helped them construct webs of support. It also demonstrates what kinds of support young people need at different turning points in their lives.

Learn more about the major findings from Turning Points below.

Two different studies, with one major takeaway: It is not just a single relationship, but rather a dynamic web of support, that stands the best shot of preparing young people for work and for life.

For more about webs of support, read Defining Webs of Support: A New Framework to Advance Understanding about Relationships and Youth Development.

Both studies build on the Center for Promise’s work examining the importance of relationships for keeping young people in school and on a path to adult success.


Young people's webs of support show four distinct cores of relationships: family, community, institution, and the career pathways program. Each provides important social support. The career pathways program core is unique among them because it offers four different types of support.

These four primary cores of relationships vary in the type, frequency, amount, and duration of support they provide. When certain cores fail to remain viable sources of support or can not provide the specific support a young person needs, other cores and relationships within the cores seem to adapt accordingly.

Within the career pathways core, those in advisory roles (e.g. advisors, case managers, and career coaches), along with the participants’ peer group in the program, were the primary providers of emotional and appraisal support. Other individuals (e.g. class instructors) provided higher amounts of informational and instrumental support.

“… I'm gonna cry. But that was…a turning point 'cause nobody has ever said that they were proud of me. And he’s like ‘I admire you for all the stuff that you’ve been through.’ And he had said…‘Some day I hope that I can grow up to have like your strength and your determination and your motivation.’ …[T]hat really touched me, and…me and him are still friends.”

- 22-year-old female


A young person's web of support is a dynamic system. Young people access different cores at different times according to the individual's changing needs and the degree to which a given core is responsive to those needs. 

With the young person at the center, webs can adapt in response to contextual and cultural factors. This allows a young person’s web to meet changing needs and leverage existing strengths.

“I still remember the first day I walked in here, and one of the case managers gave me a warm handshake,” says Abisai of his case manager at Café Momentum. “He’s the one who helped me get this job and gave me good support.”


The career pathways core appears to be responsive and integrated into the web of support, acting as a scaffold for young people's positive development and for a wide range of supportive relationships that enable success in work and life. 

The career pathways core -- the newest core to the participants’ web -- provided multiple, concurrent, intentional supports that helped to meet urgent needs, encourage resilience, and create a foundation for the development of future relationships and cores.

Young people’s descriptions of the role of the career pathways program core suggest a deep appreciation for, if not always an awareness of, the way that supportive relationships are integrated into each program’s design.

“You have therapy right there whenever you're ready. And she [program employee] didn't just help me with…my divorce and stuff, but…she helped me…figure out childcare, and she helped me figure out housing....So…she was really…a lot of different things for me…that had nothing to do with learning technology. So that's why [program name] is so magical.”

-- Female, unreported age


“The staff here is phenomenal,” Oquendo says of his time in Per Scholas. “I’ve never really felt this in high school or in college. They provided mentorship that I wasn’t given before. I really feel like I have shoulders to lean on, like I can talk to anybody in the staff.”


To leverage young people’s strengths and maximize the effectiveness of career pathways programs for risk-immersed youth, the authors of this report offer the following recommendations:

  • Build multiple social supports into the design of career pathways programs.
  • Envision career pathways programs as part of a supportive youth system.
  • Activate and connect multiple cores in a young person’s web of support.
  • Keep listening to what young people say is working and not working.

Your past does not determine your future.  The following videos highlight how four young people across the country overcame various life circumstances with the help of their webs of support and workforce development programs. 

* These videos are available for embedding via YouTube.​​​​​​​


Daria Hall
[email protected]


Please join the conversation by using the hashtags #youthoppfund and #pathways2progress and downloading the partner and community social media guide.

Help spread the word about Turning Points (just click to launch and edit the tweet below in Twitter): 

NEW REPORT: Turning Points via @Center4Promise @BU_SED, supported by @Citi Fdn #YouthOppFund #Pathways2Progress

College & Career Mentoring College and Career Readiness Youth Voice
The 5 Promises

The 5 Promises represent conditions children need to achieve adult success. The collective work of the Alliance involves keeping these promises to America’s youth. This article relates to the promises highlighted below:

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