By Kathryn Nichols, Consultant, National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership
It’s National Workforce Development Month – a time to recognize the contributions of workforce development professionals who play a vital role in preparing and assisting youth and adult jobseekers to be successful in finding and maintaining employment. For over a decade, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) has been working to promote the value of and further grow a professional development system for youth service professionals in the workforce development system. This work includes partnering with agencies and organizations across the U.S. to plan and deliver training and technical assistance to youth service professionals in order to develop their competencies to work effectively with all youth.
Over the past two years, NCWD/Youth has been supporting professional development for youth service professionals in Washington, DC through an initiative called the Youth Workforce Leaders Academy. This ten-month professional development opportunity is co-led by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Institute for Educational Leadership (NCWD/Youth’s host organization) with support from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region’s Greater Washington Workforce Collaborative and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
The Academy engages a cohort of 15 professionals in monthly day-long learning sessions focused on best practices for assisting youth in transition to employment, postsecondary education, and adulthood. The Academy’s professional learning community model provides a rare opportunity for participants to develop a strong network of peers from other local organizations and agencies. This affords opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and opens doors to building collaborations and better coordinating services to youth in the city.
Training in core competencies for youth service professionals combined with peer-to-peer learning and networking has proven to be a powerful professional development vehicle for youth service professionals. As one Academy participant put it, “It has been very valuable to meet other people doing similar work in the city. I enjoy learning about their strategies that work and learning about their programs.”
In the human services sector, it’s easy to take professional development for granted and hard to make time and space for learning new or improved strategies and skills for doing the work. But it’s so important and can be so impactful when we provide high quality professional development opportunities. When asked to describe the benefits of completing the Academy, another participant shared, “I have grown so much as a professional through YWLA. Through the connections I’ve made with other youth workforce professionals and the immense amount of resources, both tangible and intangible, I am a much stronger, more aware, more thoughtful professional. I have gained confidence in my work and an amazing amount of knowledge, skills, and abilities that I didn’t have or didn’t know I had just a few months ago.”
When it’s all said and done, the real value of professional development depends upon professionals taking what they learn back to their organizations and using it to improve their work with youth. Academy graduate Martin Copeland, Curriculum Outreach Manager at Urban Alliance, recently shared with us how he’s using what he gained from the professional development opportunity:
“As Urban Alliance embarks on a HUGE project to rewrite our entire curriculum, I find myself referencing things as I speak to my partner-in-writing. ‘How do you think students with disabilities will respond to this activity?’ ‘I think we should have an assessment included in each of our workshops moving forward.’ Then I think, ‘Where has all of this come from?’ “
“THANK YOU SO MUCH for all that you put into YWLA and for the opportunity to learn and to be so connected. This was more than I ever thought it could be. As we write, my YWLA binder is right at my side! You all are the best!”
The benefits of professional development are evident in these comments. Investing in the development of those working with youth in the workforce development system can improve the quality of services and programs leading to greater results for youth. In addition to recognizing all that youth workforce development professionals do this month, let’s also recommit to supporting their development by making high quality professional development for workforce development professionals a priority in all our communities across the country.
Learn more about YWLA from our host organization, the Institute for Educational Leadership and from our partner, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates!
Related professional development resources for those in the workforce development system: