A First Job Can Change a Life

Photo of Secretary King seated to the right of panelists at the #FirstJob Compact summit

Secretary King moderates a panel at the #FirstJob Compact summit

“During my time with young people… I was able to teach them skills and, hopefully, show them that their contributions – their skills, their experiences, their imaginations – are valuable. A sense of possibility can make all the difference for an individual and for a community,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary John King at the First Job Compact Implementation Convening.

Yesterday, Secretary King provided opening remarks and facilitated a panel with youth and employers at the First Job Compact Implementation Convening. This is the second convening of its kind that seeks to establish best practices and strategies for enabling Opportunity Youth— youth ages 16-24 who are out-of-work and out-of-school—to obtain their first job. Over 100 human resources and talent leaders, as well as non-profits and agency colleagues, gathered to discuss these strategies and how to make them part of their company’s business plan.

Secretary King also announced that the U.S. Department of Education(ED), in consultation with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, intends to provide technical assistance funding to help public housing authorities connect youth who have aged out of the foster care system with high quality career and technical education programs. Through this investment, ED hopes to assist career and technical education programs to better meet the needs of current and former foster youth. The project also seeks to improve coordination among the child welfare system and other federal programs.

About one in seven young people between the ages of 16-24 are either not in school or not working. These individuals are known as Opportunity Youth. The unemployment rate for individuals 16-24 sits at 11 percent and is even higher among African-American and Latino youth (22 percent and 12 percent respectively). Early in the Obama Administration, the White House convened corporations to encourage companies to create pathways for Opportunity Youth to gain their first job. Additionally, in President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address, he announced the importance of creating an economy that works better for everybody, including a plan for Opportunity Youth to gain the work experience, skills, and networks that come from having a job. This effort will not only change the lives of youth and communities across the country, but it will also create and build a sustainable and resilient workforce.

Yesterday’s convening included companies such as Gap and Chipotle, who signed on to the First Job Compact. Through a series of engaging panels, corporations share best practices needed to move this work forward. These companies understand that the Compact’s objectives are mutually beneficial to their companies and the youth it serves. Companies often report that young people struggle to find jobs because they lack basic workplace skills and behaviors. By committing to a set of best practices to hire and support these youth, companies will be able to identify and leverage the vital skills and backgrounds these youth bring to the job and in turn increase their interview to hire ratio, retention rate, speed to promotion, and engagement scores to meet company goals. For almost a decade, Gap has engaged in This Way Ahead, which is a paid life skills and internship program that helps low-income youth land a first job at our Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic stores.

Through strong collaboration, industry and government will remain committed to reconnecting Opportunity Youth to education and workforce opportunities. Recently, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report “Work-based Learning for Youth at Risk: Getting Employers on Board” which aims to tackle the common challenge to growing youth job training by establishing the idea that employers first need to see work-based learning as a way to help their business. Read more about this report and further analysis in this blog by New America.

It is clear this this issue has already stirred national interest. President Obama recently released a fact sheet on innovative ways to fund the First Job initiative. In conjunction with ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), the Administration has engaged in a #FirstJob Skills Campaign which seeks to leverage social media and celebrities to connect youth to educational resources to help improve their employability skills. As a part of these efforts, OCTAE released a fact sheet entitled Employability Skills: Supporting Opportunity Youth to Be Successful in Their First Job. This administration firmly believes that these efforts will strengthen our workforce, grow our economy, and change lives.

No More Blank Resumes

I remember my first job well. I tended to greenhouses and operated machines. It taught me so much. I learned how to show up on time every day. I learned how to get tasks done irrespective of whether they excited me or not. I developed relationships with adults and learned how to work in a team and resolve conflicts. I learned how to receive and respond to feedback. I learned about consequences of mistakes. I learned about accountability and rewards. I appreciated the structure my first job brought to my life. And, as a young man, I sure appreciated the extra cash. But, perhaps most importantly, I ended up with some experience I could put on my resume or on an application form.

All young people need a first-job. It gives them some experience, increases their confidence, and allows them to develop their networks. But not all are getting it. One in seven young people aged 16 to 24 are both out of school and out of work – a population that is disproportionately young men of color.  That is why, on Tuesday, the White House launched the #FirstJob Compact of Best Practices for Hiring, Recruiting, and Supporting Young People —a set of best practices that were designed with leading companies in hiring and promoting young people who are not in school or working. The #FirstJob Compact will accomplish several things including identifying jobs and internships for youth with no experience and developing a plan to support these youth once hired. It also calls on nonprofits, school districts, workforce development boards, and others to help recruit these youth.

Nearly 40 major companies have signed on as Founding Members of #FirstJob Compact. Gap Inc. is one of these companies and has committed to expanding its life skills and paid internship program. This Way Ahead is the name of Gap’s program that gives 16 to 24 year olds from low-income communities training and in-store work experience. Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy will recruit five percent of all entry-level store employees from graduates from this program by 2025, or approximately 5,000 hires per year.

I am calling on employers in the education sector to do the same. There are approximately 13,500 school districts and almost 100,000 public schools, 2,300 adult education programs, and more than 7,000 institutions of higher education in the U.S. If each of these institutions offers just one young person their first job, then we will have made an important step in the right direction. Let’s work together to end resumes that have blanks in the experience section.

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Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (delegated the duties of the Assistant Secretary) for career, technical, and adult education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Performance Partnership Pilot Applications Invited

Federal agencies have released a third call for proposals to improve education, employment, and other key outcomes for disconnected youth.

While our nation has seen progress over the last few years, there still remain over five million 14-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. who are out of school and not working. In many cases, these youth face additional challenges including being low-income, homeless, in foster care, or involved in the justice system. In response, seven federal agencies are, for the third time, jointly inviting state, local, and tribal communities to apply to become a Performance Partnership Pilot (P3) to test innovative, outcome-focused strategies to achieving better outcomes for these youth, as well as youth at risk of becoming disconnected from critical social institutions and supports.

The P3 initiative allows pilots to receive customized flexibility from the participating agencies—including the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and now also the Department of Housing and Urban Development—to overcome barriers and align program and reporting requirements across programs. This flexibility enables communities to pursue the most innovative and effective ways to use their existing funds that they already receive from the federal government to improve outcomes for the neediest youth.

This third round of pilots will build on innovative work underway by existing pilots. In October 2015, the Department of Education announced the first round of nine pilots on behalf of all the participating agencies. From supporting young moms and their young children with a two-generation approach to helping foster care youth transition successfully from high school to college and career, these pilots will serve a total of roughly 10,000 disconnected youth from urban, rural, and tribal communities around the country. Applications for the second round of pilots closed on June 27, 2016, and agencies expect to designate pilots by the end of the year.

Early pilots are seeing the value of the P3 model. “It takes more than a single agency or funding source to help young people in tough situations get back on track,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The Performance Partnership Pilot gives L.A. the flexibility to break down boundaries and test new ideas for putting kids on a path to success.”

This third round of pilots again offers up to 10 state, local or tribal communities the opportunity to propose bold new ideas for how they would use P3 flexibility to transform the way they deliver services and improve outcomes for their disconnected youth. Additionally, this round will newly permit communities to use their Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grants Program funds, funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the pilots.

Stakeholders on the front lines of service delivery have let us know that flexibility, such as better aligning the multiple systems that serve youth, is sometimes needed to achieve powerful outcomes. P3 responds directly to on-the-ground challenges by offering broad new flexibility in exchange for better outcomes. While this competition offers small start-up grants that can fund administrative expenses, data collection, evaluation or other activities that support effective implementation of a pilot, P3 primarily focuses on creating flexibility. Partner organizations already working together on the ground can propose true seamless service delivery systems that maximize outcomes for disconnected youth by seeking waivers across multiple funding streams that they already receive.

This round of P3 includes several priorities to test this authority in diverse environments across America and support broader learning in the field. For example, acknowledging the diverse needs of communities, the competition allows separate categories of consideration for applicants that propose to serve disconnected youth in rural communities, in tribal communities, or in communities that recently have experienced civil unrest. In addition, applicants can earn bonus points in the selection process by proposing to rigorously evaluate at least one component of their pilot, proposing to implement work-based learning opportunities, or proposing projects that would specifically serve youth who are neither employed nor in school.

You can find more information about the third round of P3 application requirements and selection criteria in the Federal Register Notice Inviting Applications (NIA).

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Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE

Performance Partnership Pilots: An Opportunity to Improve Outcomes for Disconnected Youth

Federal agencies have released a second call for bold proposals to improve education, employment, and other key outcomes for disconnected youth.

Over five million 14-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. are out of school and not working. In many cases, they face the additional challenges including being low-income, homeless, in foster care, or involved in the justice system. In response, seven federal agencies are jointly inviting state, local, and tribal communities to apply to become a Performance Partnership Pilot (P3) to test innovative, outcome-focused strategies to achieving better outcomes for these youth, as well as youth at risk of becoming disconnected from critical social institutions and supports.

The P3 initiative allows pilots to receive customized flexibility from the participating agencies—including the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and now also the U.S. Department of Justice—to overcome barriers and align program and reporting requirements across programs. This flexibility enables communities to pursue the most innovative and effective ways to use their existing funds to improve outcomes for the neediest youth.

In October 2015, the Department of Education announced the first round of nine pilots on behalf of all the participating agencies. From supporting youth moms and their young children with a two-generation approach to helping foster care youth transition successfully from high school to college and career, these pilots will serve a total of roughly 10,000 disconnected youth. For example, the City of Indianapolis will be providing comprehensive, concentrated, and coordinated services to low-income, disconnected youth ages 14 through 24 who reside within two public housing communities that are located in the city’s Opportunity Zone, a collective impact initiative modeled on the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis, MN. The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, a local workforce development board, is also implementing a collective impact model to improve outcomes for youth. It will be working with Partners for Education at Berea College, and the Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone to provide services and activities to address the needs of 1,000 disconnected youth in the rural Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone.

This second round of pilots offers up to 10 communities the opportunity to propose bold new ideas for how they would use P3 flexibility to transform the way they deliver services and improve outcomes for their disconnected youth.

Stakeholders on the front lines of service delivery have let us know that flexibility, such as better aligning the multiple systems that serve youth, is sometimes needed to achieve powerful outcomes. P3 responds directly to these challenges by offering broad new flexibility in exchange for better outcomes.

This round of P3 includes several priorities to test this authority in diverse environments across America and support broader learning in the field. For example, acknowledging the diverse needs of communities, the competition allows separate categories of consideration for applicants that propose to serve disconnected youth in rural communities, in tribal communities, or in communities that recently have experienced civil unrest. In addition, applicants can earn bonus points in the selection process by proposing to rigorously evaluate at least one component of their pilot, proposing to implement work-based learning opportunities, or proposing projects that would specifically serve youth who are neither employed nor in school.

A competition for a third round of up to 10 pilots is expected to be released in the summer of 2016. This will provide another opportunity for communities that need more time to collaborate and prepare their best proposals. Additionally, this third competition round will permit communities to use their Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grants Program funds, funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the pilots.

To hear representatives from Federal agencies present the details of the recently released Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) on P3, including application requirements and selection criteria, please register and join us for the P3 National Webinar on May 9th at 1PM ET. Registration information is available at www.youth.gov/P3.

Let’s Commit to Giving CTE Students the Opportunity They Demand and Deserve

Career and technical education (CTE) has changed a lot from the “old vocational education” that many of us know from our school days. For the better part of this century, States and local communities have worked steadily to build high-quality CTE programs that are academically rigorous and aligned with labor market demands. The whole idea of the artificial separation between academic and technical pathways is passé. Most professions and careers in the 2016 and future economies require strong academic foundation skills, considerable technical knowledge and skills, and well-developed employability skills and attributes. There is nothing about CTE today that is not rigorous, relevant, and worth it.

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Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE
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Director of Policy, OCTAE
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Director, Division of Academic and Technical Education, OCTAE

21, 23, or 26? Rethinking Eligibility for Youth Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care

Good health is really important. That is why we all need access to health care we can afford. Regardless of our age. Up until January 2014, foster youth over the age of 18 did not have that access. It was at that time that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required states to provide Medicaid coverage for foster youth until they turned 26, as long as they were in foster care and receiving Medicaid at age 18. This was a huge step forward.

Photo of Isabel Soto

As a biological sister to siblings who aged out of foster care, I know all too well that eighteen is too young an age for many youth and young adults to be without financial, social, and emotional support. Having been adopted, I, like many youth, was not suddenly expected to be fully independent and entirely self-reliant the day I turned eighteen.
– Isabel Soto

Still, foster youth need more. The needs of foster youth are no different than the needs of other youth or young adults. We should make sure youth who age out of foster care can access the same services and supports our own young adult children can until they are stable and on their feet. In fact, data show that a growing number of young adults are living with their parents well into their thirties. And, recent U.S. Census data show that 18- to 34-year olds are less likely to be living on their own today than they were during the Great Recession.

Parents of young adults make sure their kids have continued care and support as they mature, pursue a higher education, or test the job market in search of their first or that next better paying job. So why aren’t we ensuring the same for foster youth or youth who have aged out of the foster care system? This makes no sense.

The good news is that several states are thinking about this and are taking steps to extend benefits and services, other than health care, beyond age 18. Today, almost every state has extended benefits to foster youth past the age of 18 and up to age 21 with federal Title IV-E funding. However, not all states are alike in the way they treat this issue. Two states have extended foster care services for youth up to age 19, two states to age 20, forty-two states to age 21, one state to age 21 ½, two states to age 22, and one state to age 23. These differences are causing some new challenges. Medicaid coverage, for example, is not transportable for many young people who move out of state and we know very little about the number of states that offer coverage to out-of-state youths today. Again, these differences in access make no sense.

Over the last couple of years, our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and our team have had quite a few opportunities to talk with and listen to both current and former foster youth. We heard their stories. We learned about their dreams. We learned about the many obstacles standing in the way of them achieving those dreams. From these conversations, we have concluded that these are reasonable next steps to ensure improved career and life trajectories for foster youth:

  • Youth in transition from foster care are often left to navigate their instantaneous life as independents alone. Policies and programs designed to assist this population accomplish little to nothing if foster youth do not know such services are available. For this reason, it is critical to first ensure that current and former foster youth are made aware of and able to access the resources available to them.
  • It is essential to have child welfare and education related staff and relevant community partners trained to help youth gain access to available supports that will help them transition to independent living.” Further, it is important that they know how to help youth access and maintain safe and stable housing, transportation, financial resources, and access to postsecondary education and career opportunities.

States are the entities deciding whether to extend benefits to foster care services for youth to 21, 23, and beyond. States are the entities that will decide to offer coverage to out-of-state youths. We realize it may take states some time to get there. The important thing is that we continue to work together at the national, state, local, and tribal levels to extend services for these youth well into their twenties and to ensure all services are transportable from state to state.

There are approximately 20,000-25,000 youth who emancipate every year. These young adults face more obstacles as they transition to adulthood such as homelessness, unemployment, difficulty accessing postsecondary education, and financial instability. This does not have to and should not be the case.

Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (delegated the duties of Assistant Secretary) for Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

Isabel Soto is a former foster youth and Confidential Assistant in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

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Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE
Photo of Isabel Soto
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Confidential Assistant, OCTAE

Transforming the Lives of Adult Learners at Scale

Last week, I, along with regional representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke as part of a Fresh Federal Perspectives plenary session at the 2016 youth conference hosted by the California Workforce Association in Sacramento. Assemblymember Autumn Burke, a strong advocate for career and technical education, kicked off the session.

Students learning to climb utility poles in outside yard.

Beginning students learn how to safely climb poles. The program has a waiting list of several hundred students, many of whom will wait a year.

There were over 500 youth practitioners and policy makers in attendance. I stressed why partnerships are essential at all levels if we want all youth – not some youth – to have the opportunity to access a path into the middle class. Later in the day, I had the opportunity to meet briefly with the executive leadership of California’s Workforce Board to talk about California’s draft Unified Plan under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Then, I had the opportunity to hear from state administrators and local program leaders in a listening and consultation session at the California Department of Education. WIOA and state funding in California, called the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), California’s WIOA State Plan, and other statewide initiatives were the key topics of discussion.

Students in Photovoltaics program working in a classroom.

Students in the Photovoltaics program that integrates math, technical and hands-on training learn how to install solar panels.

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After Finals, Foster Youth Students Continue to Face a Difficult Test

Last year on December 30th, Annie Blackledge and I co-authored a blog post called “After Finals, Foster Youth Face a Much More Difficult Test.” We wrote the blog to draw attention to the issue that many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live during winter break until classes resume in January. While several institutions have put in place solutions to avoid this spell of unnecessary homelessness, not all institutions have. I am reposting the blog from last year as an additional call to action to do the right thing on behalf of homeless and foster youth and young adult emancipated students.


After Finals, Foster Youth Face a Much More Difficult Test

As winter break unwinds and college students are at home for the holidays, many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live until classes resume in January. College campuses traditionally close down for winter break. For these vulnerable students their college campus is their home, their community and a primary source of security. While their peers are headed home to see family and catch up with old friends, many of these young people are faced with bleak prospects for the holiday season.

These vulnerable youth face the same struggles as other young people trying to maintain good grades, navigating social peer groups, and planning their futures, but they face the additional burdens associated with little to no adult guidance or support. Fortunately, higher education professionals across our nation have begun to tackle the unique issues faced by homeless and foster care students. They are developing comprehensive strategies to address the most persistent barriers these students face; not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

“Higher education can be the silver bullet to achieving long-term health, housing, and economic security. And for young people who have already overcome so much adversity just to earn a seat in a college classroom, they should have every opportunity—inside and outside of the classroom—to succeed” says Jasmine Hayes, Policy Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Ensuring these youth have a safe, stable place to call home in-between semesters is critical. Keeping student housing open and available for youth experiencing homelessness during semester breaks is an effective approach.”

Programs in states like Colorado and North Carolina have implemented Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in their postsecondary institutions which provide these students access to designated college administrators who are committed to helping them to successfully navigate the college-going process. States and higher education institutions across the country are also working to address the issues these students face, including

  • access to higher education opportunities and financial support;
  • navigation of the college-going process, including financial aid and service referral processes; and
  • basic needs like employment, housing and food.

These efforts are ensuring these most vulnerable students reach their highest potential.

Colleges can play a pivotal role in supporting the academic success of these students. Just ask for foster youth, Alain Datcher. “Entering college as a first time student was a daunting experience. It was a mixture of culture shock, academic rigor and rapid growth. I don’t believe I would have succeeded without the support network I had in one woman – Tamara Malone. She was a mentor, academic advisor, dean and more in one caring, compassionate woman.” When asked how he thought his experience could translate for other students who are homeless or in foster care he replied, “Proximity will define opportunity for these young people. Having a close, approachable, and tangible support network will make the difference. It did in my college education at Biola University. I’ll be earning a Master’s of Public Policy degree in April. Having one caring, single point of contact in Tamra is a big reason why I will.”

When educators act, they change lives. If you know of a foster youth student in your institution, be proactive and reach out. It can make all the difference. Find out more at http://findyouthinfo.gov/.

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Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE

The Challenge and Opportunity Ahead for our Criminal Justice System

In 2014, the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, Exploring Causes and Consequences,” which pointed out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. It noted the staggering racial disparities in incarceration, and called for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment saying that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.”

This report didn’t make a huge splash in the press, but it cemented an emerging recognition that our criminal justice policies – our school discipline, “war on drugs,” “truth in sentencing,” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies – of recent decades resulted in unprecedented and costly U.S. incarceration rates that are both ineffective as a crime reduction strategy and harmful to our social fabric. It is safe to say that this is not how we want to be known in the world community. Instead, we should be known for how we engage at-risk populations, how we reinvest in people who deserve a second chance, and how we support the successful transition of justice-involved individuals back into our communities.

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Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – One-Year Anniversary

Last Wednesday marked one year since the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law by President Obama. OCTAE sent a special anniversary message to our State Directors. That message included a video from Secretaries Duncan and Perez who jointly commemorated the anniversary of WIOA’s passage. We wanted to share these messages with all of you.

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Acting Assistant Secretary, OCTAE