Members of President-elect Obama’s transition team invited Corporate Voices for Working families immediately before the holidays to present our recommendations for how to most effectively advance youth training within the context of an economic recovery package. The following are our recommendations.

Alternative Pathways: A Key to Unlocking the Future for Disconnected Youth

 Working families across the socioeconomic spectrum are the keystone of our nation’s prosperity and competitiveness.  Yet as a nation we are failing our working families because public policy has not kept pace with their needs in a rapidly changing world.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the challenges facing the more than four million disconnected youth, young adults age 16-24 that are not in school and not on a career path.  While some may have completed high school or obtained a GED, they nonetheless lack the skills, support and opportunity to get on a successful career path. 

 The current economic downturn will be particularly devastating to this population, which sits near the bottom of the economic ladder.  Yet their sheer numbers and the wasted economic potential they represent demand not just action, but a bold new vision.  Corporate Voices for Working Families and its 50 partner companies believe that a new ethic of responsibility – of shared responsibility between the public and private sectors – is necessary to close the opportunity divide for disconnected youth so that they can become contributing members of our communities and help drive the competitiveness of American businesses in the 21st century.

 Corporate Voices for Working Families recommends that President-elect Obama challenge the business community to join with him in creating a Disconnected Youth Employment Partnership dedicated to ensuring that these vulnerable young adults have access to the training, support and opportunity needed to get on a successful career path. Through this partnership, business, government and the nonprofit sectors can build a new system of training and job placement for youth to replace existing systems that, from the employers’ perspective, are frequently inconsistent and not always highly effective. While we believe this approach should be undertaken quickly, we acknowledge it may not be realistic within the context of the economic recovery package.

 However, we strongly urge President-elect Obama to include a youth training component in the recovery package.  We believe the approach that is most likely to have an impact is to direct existing funding to replicate and scale models with a demonstrated record of consistent success. 

 Successful alternative pathway models, such as Year Up and others, include several essential characteristics:

·      A skill development component.

·      A work-based and/or service learning component.

·      An engaged adult mentor.

·      Coordinated social support services.

·      A stipend.

·      Post secondary credits.

·      A market driven approach with strong business partnerships.

 We recommend that the funding flow through a Department of Labor competitive grant process, and that models be required to demonstrate success against a core set of outcomes including program completion, job placement and retention, and post secondary credit attainment in order to receive funding. Because successful models can be delivered by a variety of entities including community-based organizations, community colleges, career and technical education programs and employers, it is important that the funding be structured in a way that is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of delivery systems.   

 While the number of youth served through existing models is somewhat modest, investing in replicating and scaling these models is the best strategy to ensure that recovery dollars are successful in helping disconnected youth get the training needed to move into good jobs with a career path.  In addition, the investment will allow successful models to expand so that they can provide training and other supports to ensure that disconnected youth can participate in the infrastructure and green job training and creation programs that will be part of the recovery initiative.  Finally, the investment will help build capacity in the field which holds tremendous promise for transforming the youth training system over the longer term.

 In addition, we recommend that the recovery package include tax credits for companies that provide opportunities for disconnected youth.  We support current proposals to give companies a tax credit for hiring disconnected youth and suggest that the credit be graduated over a year to help ensure the young person gets on a career path. Because we know that early work experiences are essential in helping at risk youth get on a successful career path, we also support additional, more modest tax credits for companies that provide apprenticeships, internships and mentoring programs for disconnected youth.

 When considering public policy within the context of a new ethic of responsibility, there must be an acknowledged shared responsibility among the business community and policymakers that disconnected youth need training, support and opportunity, and that our future economic prosperity depends on it.