Best Practices for Youth Employment Programs: A Synthesis of Current Research

About the study

This study examined effective practices in youth employment programs in the United States over a 15-year period. Through a review of programs and relevant literature, the study highlights successful youth employment programs and further provides insight into effective programmatic practices.


What can be learned from this study?

Effective youth employment programming involves several key features, including an emphasis on program design and content, program relevance, program delivery, and program assessment and quality assurance.

• Having clear purpose and program goals are imperative to developing effective youth employment programs. For instance, service providers delivering youth employment programs should focus on preparing young people for the workforce by helping them develop employability skills such as reading and writing, thinking skills, and personal qualities.

• Youth employment service providers should offer a wide range of services including vocational training, counseling, career guidance, workshops and work experiences. Rather than focusing on one type of service, effective programs have taken a more comprehensive and holistic approach to delivering services.

• Youth employment programs should be based on positive youth development (PYD) principles, which builds on youth strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses. PYD approach works to strengthen relationships between adults and young people, develop youths’ leadership skills, and increase youths’ sense of belonging in the group. A successful youth employment program, YouthBuild, focused on fostering positive youth-adult relationships and encouraged participants to become leaders by involving them in the decision-making of the organization.

• Service providers need to have a qualified group of staff who possess the knowledge and skills necessary for working with young people. Staff members who are able to connect with local employers are important to the team in order to increase employment opportunities for their participants.

• Youth employment services should offer follow-up services to youth participants for a minimum of one year after completion of the program. A number of organizations have set up an alumni network.

• To make their programs more attractive, some successful youth employment programs have offered financial incentives, such as allowances and payments, for their participants. However, these incentives appear to be more effective for in-school youth, rather than youth who have been out of school for a longer period of time.

• While studies are indicating that early intervention is proving to be an effective practice, there is an absence of research on programming targeted at middle school youth (13 to 15 year olds).

• Youth employment programs should not only be evaluated based upon their program completion and job placement rates, but also the competencies gained by participating youth, such as soft and hard skills.

• The authors note that “there is still little evidence to demonstrate what additional outcomes or effects youth employment programs have on youth development” and caution that there is little evidence to explain which features of youth programs are contributing to their success.

What method(s) did the study use?

Literature review