KSAs of Youth Service Professionals: Youth Needs/Field & Program Benefits Jump Start

Youth Needs/Field & Program Benefits

Providing training and resources for youth service professionals is a critical investment that will benefit youth, organizations, and communities. Research has shown that the professional development of staff leads to better practice with youth, improves program quality, and increases positive youth outcomes. To make the transition from school to adult life and the world of work, adolescents and young adults need guidance and encouragement from caring supportive adults. For most youth, youth service professionals (adults who work directly with youth) are the face of the workforce development system. Just as youth seek to build the competencies they need to be successful in adolescence and adulthood, the professionals working with these youth must build the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to assist them in this endeavor. Connecting youth to the workforce development system requires a mix of competencies from the youth development, education, and workforce development fields.

The U.S. Census has estimated that up to one in eight youth have a disability (some hidden or undiagnosed). It is therefore important for youth service professionals to be prepared to work effectively with all youth. This is especially important today as programs are increasingly targeting their resources to serving “the neediest youth,” and–considerable overlap exists between these populations and youth with disabilities. For example:

  • 30 – 40 % of youth in foster care attend special education classes (DiLorenzo & Richards, 2006)
  • 36% of high school dropouts have learning disabilities and 59% have emotional or behavioral disorders (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996)
  • 75% of youth in the juvenile justice system have some type of disability (DOJ, PACER, 2005)

Therefore, success in today’s workforce development system requires that all staff have some familiarity with the field of disability. Such familiarity should include knowing about universal access strategies, disclosure regulations, and the ability to find and connect with appropriate resources for all the young people with whom they are working.

Youth service professionals with the necessary KSAs can provide all youth with a wider variety of opportunities, resources, and services to maximize their potential and make a positive transition to adulthood and the world of work. Programs and organizations can be more effective when youth service professionals are equipped with the critical KSAs to do their jobs. The Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Initiative of the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) has identified key competencies which youth service professionals, policymakers, organizations, and individuals can use to create effective service delivery systems and resources for the benefit of all youth.

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KSA Areas / Overview / Relevance

The KSAs are divided into 10 core areas drawn from the youth development, education, workforce preparation, and disabilities arenas. These KSA areas were developed by reviewing the work of over 70 initiatives from across these fields from organizations that define competencies, deliver training, and/or certify professionals. The ten areas were then validated by stakeholders from the field, youth service professionals and program administrators through focus groups, an online questionnaire, and several stakeholder meetings.

The validated KSA core competency areas for youth professionals includes having a basic understanding of the field (or fields) in which they work, including youth development principles, relevant employment law, and applicable disabilities-related procedures. This basic understanding of the field gives professionals the context in which to do their work and make daily decisions about the best options for the youth with whom they work.

In addition, the ability to communicate with, advocate for, and motivate youth is required. Young people stay longer and are more successful in a program when they are connected with a caring adult. Youth professionals must also be able to accurately assess each youth who comes through the door, making the proper referrals when needed, and to then complete a person-centered individualized plan. They must involve youth in the planning for their transition through informed choices and personal goal-setting.

Professionals also need to know how to communicate with families, communities, and employers. Youth do not exist in an isolated box but rather develop in a family and community context. Parents, guardians, and other family members often affect (and are affected by) a young person’s experiences and choices during transition. These important people can better support the youth if they understand the program and its goals.

Community norms and respect can also play a key role in a youth’s program retention. When the community knows that youth are involved in a positive experience, they will often provide needed support and approval to the youth and to youth-serving programs.

Finally, employers, a key piece to the workforce development puzzle, can play their roles more effectively with proper support and information from the organization placing the youth. This communication will improve the experience for the youth, the professional, and the employer.

Professionals must also have a mix of key workforce development KSAs including those relating to workforce preparation and career exploration. They must build the youth’s job readiness and job search skills; identify youth’s strengths and interests; and be aware of industry needs and labor market trends. In addition, professionals need to have the administrative skills, resources, and program design knowledge necessary to run a successful youth program. They need to know how to create a program schedule, connect to the right resources, and work through the paperwork and data collection systems that are an integral part of any organization that works with youth. It really takes a broad set of skills and very specific knowledge to effectively work with all youth in the workforce development system. (For a detailed list of the specific competencies in each of the 10 Competency Areas, please see the chart below.)

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Competency Areas

This chart is excerpted from: Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities of Youth Service Professionals: The Centerpiece of a Successful Workforce Development System, a white paper published by the NCWD/Youth (KSA white paper in PDF format or KSA white paper in Word format). In the table below, the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to work with all youth in the workforce development system are organized into 10 “Competency Areas,” developed through an extensive review of literature, research, national organization models, federal policy, local program practices, and curriculum conducted by the members of NCWD/Youth. Column one outlines the KSAs needed to work with all youth and column two identifies the additional KSAs necessary to better connect youth with disabilities to workforce development opportunities.

Table 1: Synthesis of Competencies of Youth Service Professionals
Baseline competencies for all youth service professionals are listed in the first column. These were synthesized from the work of The John J. Heldrich Center, the YDPA Program, the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP), and others. The second column contains the additional competencies for youth service professionals working with youth with disabilities. These competencies are a combination of those suggested by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), the Center for Mental Health Services, the Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE), and others.
KSAs Needed to Serve All Youth Effectively Additional KSAs Needed to Serve Youth with Disabilities Effectively
Competency Area #1: Knowledge of the Field
  • Knowledge of youth development theory, adolescent and human development
  • Understanding of youth rights and laws including labor, curfew, and attendance
  • Knowledge of self as a youth development worker, including professional ethics and boundaries, confidentiality, and professional development needs and opportunities
  • Understanding of the values and history of the disability field
  • Understanding of disability laws including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA)
  • Knowledge of key concepts and processes including Individualized Education Program (IEP), Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), transition, due process procedures, parents’ rights, informed choice, self determination, universal access, and reasonable accommodations
  • Understanding of privacy and confidentiality rights as they relate to disability disclosure
Competency Area #2: Communication with Youth
  • Respect and caring for all youth, including the ability to be open minded and nonjudgmental, develop trusting relationships, and maintain awareness of diversity and youth culture
  • Ability to recognize and address need for intervention (e.g. drug or alcohol abuse, domestic abuse or violence, and depression)
  • Ability to advocate for, motivate, recruit, and engage youth
  • Knowledge of issues and trends affecting youth with disabilities (e.g. low expectations, attitudinal or environmental barriers, need for social integration)
  • Understanding of disability awareness, sensitivity, and culture
  • Understanding of how to communicate with youth with various physical, sensory, psychiatric, and cognitive disabilities
Competency Area #3: Assessment and Individualized Planning
  • Ability to facilitate person-centered planning, including the ability to assess goals, interests, past experience, learning styles, academic skills, assets, independent living skills, and needs (e.g. transportation, etc)
  • Ability to involve youth in their own planning process by helping youth to set realistic goals and action steps, make informed choices, exercise self-determination, and actively participate in their own development (includes financial/benefits planning and educational requirements)
  • Knowledge of various assessment tools and strategies and ability to administer assessments (or make referrals, as needed)
  • Ability to track progress and change plans as needed
  • Ability to ensure appropriate assessment of young peoples’ disabilities (in-house or through referrals, as necessary)
  • Understanding how to use information from assessments and records and recognize implications for education and employment, including any potential need for accommodations and assistive technology
  • Ability to assess independent/ community living skills and needs, including accommodations and supports
  • Understanding of benefits planning, includes Social Security income and health benefits and their relation to working
Competency Area #4: Relationship to Family and Community
  • Engage/build relationships with family members or other significant persons
  • Resource mapping/ ability to connect youth to community institutions, resources and supportive adults
  • Ability to engage youth in community service and leadership activities
  • Involving families, guardians, and advocates, including connections to disabilities specific resources & groups
  • Community resources, including disabilities specific resources and organizations
Competency Area #5: Workforce Preparation
  • Ability to facilitate job readiness skill-building and assess employability strengths/barriers
  • Ability to teach job search skills, including use of technology and the Internet
  • Ability to coach youth, assist in job maintenance, and provide follow-up support
  • Ability to match youth with appropriate jobs and careers, including job analysis and skills standards
  • Ability to involve employers in preparation process

  • Ability to conduct job analysis, matching, customizing, and carving for youth with disabilities, including accommodations, supports, and modifications
  • Knowledge of support required to place youth in jobs, including what employers need to know about reasonable accommodations, undue burden, assistive technology, funding streams, and tax incentives
Competency Area #6: Career Exploration
  • Knowledge of technology and online search skills
  • Knowledge of tools and processes for career exploration
  • Ability to engage employers in career exploration
  • Knowledge of workplace and labor market trends
  • Knowledge of workplace and labor market trends, including options for youth with disabilities such as supported employment, customized employment, or self-employment
Competency Area #7: Relationships with Employers & Between Employer and Employee
  • Ability to develop relationships with employers
  • Ability to communicate effectively with employers
  • Ability to mediate/resolve conflicts
  • Ability to engage employers in program design and delivery
  • Ability to train employers in how to work with and support young people
  • Customer service skills
  • Ability to identify, recruit, and provide support to employers who hire youth with disabilities
  • Ability to advocate for youth with disabilities with employers including negotiating job design, job customization, and job carving
  • Ability to train employers and their staff in how to work with and support young people, including providing disability awareness training and information about universal access and design, reasonable accommodations, auxiliary aids and services for youth with disabilities
Competency Area #8: Connection to Resources
  • Ability to identify a range of community resources (people, places, things, & money) that can assist youth
  • Ability to create relationships and network with other community agencies and potential partners
  • Ability to market own program as a valuable resource to community and a viable partner
  • Ability to build collaborative relationships and manage partnerships
  • Knowledge about different funding streams for youth
  • Knowledge of community intermediary organizations to assist with disability-specific supports and resources
Competency Area #9: Program Design and Delivery
  • Knowledge of workforce development system, including technology of workforce development (service management, performance measures, and assessment)
  • Ability to work with groups, foster teamwork, and develop leadership and followership among youth
  • Ability to manage programs and budgets
  • Ability to design programs using best practices (considering age, stage, and cultural appropriateness)
  • Service management skills, including how to set measurable goals with tangible outcomes
  • Ability to evaluate and adjust programs based on outcome measurement and data
  • Ability to access resources from special education, vocational rehabilitation, community rehabilitation programs, disability income support work incentives, and other disability-specific programs
  • Knowledge of universal access and design, reasonable accommodation, auxiliary aids, and services
Competency Area #10: Administrative Skills
  • Ability to complete referrals and service summaries using common reporting formats and requirements
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Time management skills
  • Strong interpersonal skills/ability to work within a team
  • Ability to complete disability-specific referrals and service summaries, such as IEP, transition plan, IPE, and In-service Work Plan (IWP)

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Audience Answers

The principles and resources provided in this overview of Knowledge, Skills, & Abilities provide a solid foundation for understanding how developing these competencies helps benefit youth making the transition to adulthood and the working world. Additional information can be found in the Research Base and audience sections.

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