KSAs of Youth Service Professionals: Youth Needs/Field & Program Benefits Jump Start
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.
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.)
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.
|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|
|Competency Area #2: Communication with Youth|
|Competency Area #3: Assessment and Individualized Planning|
|Competency Area #4: Relationship to Family and Community|
|Competency Area #5: Workforce Preparation|
|Competency Area #6: Career Exploration|
|Competency Area #7: Relationships with Employers & Between Employer and Employee|
|Competency Area #8: Connection to Resources|
|Competency Area #9: Program Design and Delivery|
|Competency Area #10: Administrative Skills|
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.
- Knowledge, Skills, & Abilities Backgrounder (KSA white paper in PDF format, KSA white paper in Word format)
Includes full explanation of the development, validation, and content of the 10 Competency Areas
- National Association of Workforce Development Professionals Competencies
Includes a list of the 12 Competency Areas identified by NAWDP for workforce development professionals, as well as those for three specialization “endorsements” in Business and Employer Services, Job Seeker Services, and Management Services
- National Collaboration for Youth – Competencies (National Collaboration for Youth – Competencies in PDF format, National Collaboration for Youth – Competencies in Word format)
Identifies 10 “core competencies” for youth development workers – the NYDIC website also contains professional development resources and youth development research/writings.
- Council on Rehabilitative Education (CORE) website
Identifies 8 Competency Areas for Disability and Rehabilitation Professionals and includes a curriculum guide with a self study sheet
- Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE) website list of competencies
Identifies nine Competency Areas for Supported Employment Professionals – the APSE website has many resources for persons in supported employment.
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