DC YWLA: Changing the Workforce World – One Leader At A Time

Headshot: Patricia D. Gill

By Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership.

During their recent ceremony (and celebration!), the very first graduates of the DC Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA) shared their innovative ideas with proud colleagues, supportive organizations, local officials, and federal representatives. The 15 youth service professionals represent a diverse mix of nonprofit organizations and public agencies that provide youth workforce development services and had a wide range of capstone projects to improve their own work and advance the field. Najmah Ahmad of Urban Alliance noticed the large number of at-risk youth who get in to college only to drop out in the first year. She developed “Navigating Success: Staying the Course” to increase college matriculation by focusing on connections to campus services, identity development, and managing home sickness. As Najmah said, “YWLA showed me that quality programming doesn’t just happen because you ‘like kids’.  It takes real skills and a foundation in youth development and workforce preparation.”

Group photo of YWLA graduates on stage

Angela Hughes of YWCA National Capital Area tackled the lack of job shadowing opportunities and the youth’s need to develop pre-employment skills with a community mapping project. Youth mapped businesses along the U Street Corridor and shared information about YWCA programs. Job developers followed up with the businesses identified to find job shadowing partners. Elizabeth Edwards of Higher Achievement improved the workforce skills of participants with the “IT Certifications for All” 47-week program resulting in two IT certificates for each graduate. Three participants, Kristina Savoy and Ashley Williams of the DC Department of Employment Services and Nadia Sookar of the DC Rehabilitative Services Administration, partnered together to create an agreement and service referral map ensuring the seamless referral and progress of youth with disabilities through DOES employment programs. In her presentation, Kristina described the value of relationships she built through the Academy, stating, “Our shared experiences [in YWLA] created a revolutionary network of professionals. It is good to work with ‘like minds’ and know there are many with the same passion for youth work.”

Eric Seleznow speaking at graduationEric M. Seleznow, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration highlighted the federal support for workforce innovation, “There has been increased talk about education, training, and skills on the federal level, including the Vice-President’s job training report, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the focus on apprenticeships, and even a recent State of the Union Address.”                                                                                       Elissa Silverman speaking at graduationElissa Silverman, DC Councilmember At-Large, highlighted the ongoing DC budget process and the role these participants play in connecting work experience to outcomes like work, continued training, school retention, and community college enrollment. She said, “Summer work doesn’t have to be just temporary; for older youth, it can be an entry point. The ideas are in this room and I can’t wait to hear them.”

Both speakers cited the first-hand knowledge, real life expertise, and great ideas of the graduates and invited them to come speak to them at their offices and share more of their suggestions to improve the workforce development field. Deputy Assistant Secretary Seleznow ended with this plea, “We need to hear from you!”  Oh, I think you will, sir, I think you will!

The Youth Workforce Leaders Academy is a 10-month long professional development opportunity. Supported by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and run by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, this learning community supports the growth and success of staff from Washington, DC based organizations that provide workforce development services to youth ages 16-24, including youth with disabilities. Through monthly live learning sessions, expert led webinars, web-based topical discussions, individual professional development activities, and facilitated peer-to-peer learning; YWLA aims to expand and grow participants’ expertise in providing high quality youth workforce development services.

The YWLA session topic areas and materials were based on NCWD/Youth’s Youth Service Professionals’ Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (YSP/KSA) professional development initiative.

Also see round-ups from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region!

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