Abstract: Exploring Local Implementation Contexts of Youth Workforce Development Programs: Provider and Young Adult Perspectives (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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734P Exploring Local Implementation Contexts of Youth Workforce Development Programs: Provider and Young Adult Perspectives

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley Palmer, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington
Mansi Patel, MBA, LMSW, Doctoral Student & Graduate Research Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, McKinney, TX
Katherine Kitchens, Student, University of Texas at Arlington, TX
Kaiden Cassano, Student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington
Shellye Sledge, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background: Disconnected youth and young adults (YYA)—individuals aged 16-24 not engaged in education or employment—experience marginalization and face barriers to education, training, and employment. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) authorizes youth-focused workforce development programs such as YouthBuild, Job Corps, and Youth Activities programs to increase economic self-sufficiency among YYA. Although scholars have begun to focus on a broad understanding of how WIOA programs address the needs of vulnerable YYA (Collins et al., 2021), the devolution of these programs within states requires complementary research that explores the nuanced ways in which services are implemented and experienced at the community level. Our research explored providers and YYA perspectives about local implementation contexts, including who is being served, service delivery approaches, what success is, facilitators and barriers to delivery and engagement, and opportunities to improve supports for YYA.

Methods: The sample included 12 youth-serving staff from three agencies in a metropolitan area in one southern state and seven YYA from one of the agencies (n=19). We used purposeful sampling, engaging program administrators as gatekeepers to recruit participants. Semi-structured interview guides were developed for data collection. Two staff focus groups (n=4 and n=5), one YYA focus group (n=6), three staff interviews, and one YYA interview were conducted. Trustworthiness and rigor were enhanced using multiple coders, peer debriefing, and member checking. Thematic analysis procedures recommended by Braun and Clarke (2006) were used to analyze data.

Findings: Across providers and YYA themes related to implementation and participation included: (1) ‘Success’ depends on the individual, (2) Programs facilitate success through building skills and credentials, intentionally creating connections to caring adults, YYA’s strengths, and providing access to resources and supportive services, and (3) Barriers to successful implementation and participation were both structural and individual, with an intersection between YYA’s complex backgrounds and experiences, developmental needs, and structural inequities. Unique to providers was a theme capturing Opportunities for improving support to YYA, and among YYA, a theme was found about Navigating the transition into adulthood while participating in programs.

Implications: Some YYA do not have their basic needs met, and the lack of adequate resources such as transportation, housing, and childcare make it difficult for them to complete programs. While resilient, YYA developmental needs, lack of familial support, and lack of confidence make it difficult for some YYA to engage and succeed within these programs. YYA who do participate gain caring connections with adults who provide encouragement and support alongside education and training related to jobs, life, soft skills, and access to supportive services that enable them to meet their basic needs. Specific recommendations include:(1) learning more about YYA experiences within these programs and variations in implementation and outcomes at regional and local levels as well as (2) a focus on meeting basic needs and (3) considering outcome metrics to capture impacts on healthy development and economic well-being.