There’s no more vexing and persistent issue today than youth unemployment, particularly in America’s largest cities. And to the extent that great moments can be born from great challenges, this moment may be the opportunity for Job Corps, an organization that serves approximately 60,000 youths annually, to answer the skills crisis among disaffected youth.
Indeed, this widely respected 50-year-old organization, already a leading provider of education, career training and job placement for disengaged youth, is poised to reinvent itself into “America’s 21st-century Skills Hub.”
Cities are often twin engines of prosperity and inequality. Primary factors that tip the relative strength of those engines are access to affordable education and skills training, and creditable pathways for young adults to achieve economic mobility. Job Corps, a program initiated as a central element of the 1960s War on Poverty, is well positioned to pivot and deliver on the emerging needs of non-traditional students and leading employers.
Since its inception, almost two million people have graduated from this program, and Job Corps now has a significant alumni base. Most importantly, this organization has consistently increased students’ social capital by equipping them with skills, values and habits that enable them to succeed.
In short, the Job Corps platform is perfectly positioned to enable next generation skill-hubs focused on academic, career and life effectiveness. Its “federated” operating model that provides central coordination and standards while also empowering local organizations and leaders to be their best selves is a distinctive advantage. These efforts should be in lock-step with national and local private sector partners clustered around the organization’s 126 nationwide centers. Moreover, the notion of building communities-of-practice to harness the advantages of scale and scope is a proven model in competitive organizations across non-profit and for-profit sectors.
Certainly the backdrop for this necessary reinvention establishes a clear imperative for action. The social crises that cities face are remarkably consistent, and the middle-skills gap is only getting worse; employers are at least 5 million people short in terms of college-educated workers today. Yet alarmingly the unemployment rate among adult youth ages 18–24 is in excess of 15% and as high as 30% in some cities.
Job Corps has a one-of-kind portfolio of assets and capabilities that rivals any leading private sector training organization. It can and should seize on that advantage to systematically promote its potential for transformational impact on the lives of its students rather than rely on old models to deliver the standard canon of skills to these young people.
I look forward to the day, which need not be far off, when Job Corps will be celebrated for its powerful mix of ingenuity, efficiency and effectiveness as it helps turn even more at-risk students from social liabilities to social assets.
Frank Britt is CEO of Penn Foster, an education-to-employment solutions organization helping groups like Job Corps build the next generation of the middle-skilled workforce. Since 2008, over 25,000 Job Corps students have earned a high school diploma through Penn Foster High School.