Today’s high school students and young adults face a difficult job market.
The Covid pandemic has been particularly hard on less educated workers without a college degree. The 10 million jobs lost by Americans at the pandemic’s onset disproportionally impacted young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, and especially Black and Hispanic workers. Some estimate that as many as 25 percent of our youth will neither be in school nor working when the pandemic ends.
Research shows that employers are less likely to hire workers with little to no experience for the “first jobs” that many younger workers rely on to build their skills and credentials. Without those first jobs, many will face fewer paths to enter the workforce. To help the non-college-bound, our education system needs to create alternative pathways to careers.
The Biden administration and Congress have the opportunity to create a revamped system that addresses inequality by building continuous pathways between high school and work. As part of his Build Back Better plan, President Biden has called for grants to states to accelerate students’ attainment of quality credentials, degrees, and opportunities in job training programs. As we discuss in this paper, there are promising existing models to draw on in thinking about how to provide more job opportunities to young adults.
This paper reviews several case studies to provide evidence-based examples of how to better connect students to careers. We first address the need for broad-based pathways to careers and then focus on four key themes across school−to−career models, including: (1) the importance of work-based learning that connects students to employers; (2) curriculums that emphasize soft skills and social capital to prepare young adults for their first jobs; (3) the need for supportive or wraparound services to help students get across the finish line; and, (4) high schools that help students earn credits toward postsecondary education along the way to graduation.
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