Program administrators need to ensure that all staff members are aware of the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do their jobs, have the opportunity to assess themselves in these areas, and are supported in gaining the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to do their jobs. To most youth, youth service professionals are the "face" of the program. Research has shown the importance of caring adults in youth lives and interactions with staff have been cited repeatedly as the reason that youth stay in or leave a program. Program staff with the requisite mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities are better prepared to connect youth to the opportunities, supports, and resources they need to successfully transition to adulthood, including the workplace.


1. What are the KSAs?

The KSAs are the knowledge, skills, and abilities that professionals need to work successfully with all youth in the workforce development arena. The KSAs are organized into 10 Competency Areas which were compiled from a review of over 70 initiatives from the fields of youth development, workforce development, education, and disabilities. All the initiatives reviewed identify competencies, train professionals, and/or provide certification. The initial draft list of competencies was validated by youth professionals, program managers, and stakeholders from the field through focus groups, conference calls, meetings, and an on-line survey of relevancy, proficiency, and available training.

This validation process confirmed the KSAs relevancy to the daily activities of youth workforce development programs. The 10 Competency Areas are:

  1. Knowledge of the Field
  2. Communication with Youth
  3. Assessment and Individualized Planning
  4. Relationship to Family and Community
  5. Workforce Preparation
  6. Career Exploration
  7. Relationships with Employers & Between Employer and Employee
  8. Connection to Resources
  9. Program Design and Delivery
  10. Administrative Skills

(For a full list of the competencies in each of the 10 Competency Areas, please see the Synthesis of Competencies of Youth Service Professionals)

2. How will having staff with the KSAs help my program?

In order to effectively work with all youth in workforce development, professionals must have a working Knowledge of the Field, including the relevant youth employment and disabilities law, adolescent developmental stages, and professional ethics (such as boundaries – how close/intimate to get with youth - and disclosure – how much to tell and to whom - considerations). The Collaborative has developed an information-rich website with briefs on relevant legislation, including the Workforce Investment Act and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), as well as many other resources for professionals, policymakers, employers, families, and others. Although all areas were rated as relevant, the three areas which ranked as most highly relevant were: communication with youth, assessment and individualized planning, and connection to resources.

Communication with Youth is key to youth recruitment and retention. Staff must be able to advocate for, motivate, and engage youth, as well as provide appropriate Assessment and Individualized Planning. This includes person-centered planning, making informed choices, and involving youth in the development of realistic goals and an action plan. For more information on these areas, please refer to the Youth Development & Leadership Info Brief and the Career Planning Begins with Assessment manual.

In reality, no youth program has enough hours in the day, money, or staff to do everything (too often we try!). This is probably the reason that Connection to Resources was ranked so relevant to working with youth. It is important to know where to go on the local, state, and national level to get the support you need for your program and your youth. With so many of the vulnerable youth populations overlapping (e.g. out-of-school youth, youth with disabilities, and foster care youth), collaboration is key to providing the best mix of opportunities, supports, and services for all youth. The Collaborative has created a series of "Quick Reference Guides,” desktop reference sheets with basic definitions and a list of resources. Topics include: Assessment, Benefits Planning, Hidden Disabilities, Universal Access, Working with Employers: Workplace Success, and Youth Development & Leadership.

As staff are the “face” of your workforce development program, ensuring that they have knowledge and training in these key areas will improve the program experience of youth. Consistent, caring adults are important to the success of youth and the success of youth is critical to the success of your program. Additionally, development of current staff is a wise investment as the training of new staff is time- consuming and expensive (not to mention the burden on old staff when the organization is a staff member short or in the process of bringing on new staff). In one study, over 70% of staff who received training reported using it to change the way they worked with youth. Investing in the KSAs benefits the program quality, the staff, and most importantly the youth in your program.

3. How can I use the KSAs when hiring new staff?

During the planning phase of hiring new staff, the KSAs can be used to assess current program strengths and future needs. For example, if your program has been working mostly with adults but now plans to focus on youth, you may have staff strong in workforce development and connecting to employers, but may need staff who have the ability to communicate with youth or experience in assessment and individualized planning with youth. Conversely, if you have a youth development program that is beginning to do internships and job placement, you may have the youth work experience already in-house and be looking to add some experience with employers and job readiness skill-building.

During the search phase of hiring new staff, the KSAs can be used to create position descriptions and interview questions. The competencies listed give you the language to describe exactly what you are looking for.

Sample job listing:

XYZ is looking for a professional with experience in youth assessment, person-centered planning, and job matching; must have the ability to communicate with, motivate and engage youth, as well as a history of involving families, significant adults, and the community. A thorough knowledge of youth development, labor market trends, and youth employment and disabilities law is required.”

Interview questions could also be developed based on the KSAs needed.

Sample interview questions:

  1. What is your philosophy of or approach to youth development?
  2. Describe some ways you have involved families and
    communities in your previous program?
  3. How have you or would you engage employers in a workforce
    development program?
  4. What are the key components or steps to a good job placement
    for a youth?
  5. Give an example of a time you involved a youth in his or her own
    assessment and goal-setting.
  6. What are the major job market trends in this area and how can
    we take advantage of them? How would you research or
    validate this?  

4. How can I use the KSAs to strengthen my current staff?

The first step in strengthening your current staff is to assess the competency areas in which they are already proficient and to identify areas in which they would like to improve. This can be done informally by just sitting down together and looking at the list or you can have staff complete the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Assessment for Professionals in Microsoft Word Document in Microsoft Word format , Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Assessment for Professionals in Adobe PDF Document in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. The assessment asks staff to rank each competency in three ways: 1) relevancy - how relevant it is to their work, 2) proficiency -how well do they feel they know or can do this competency, 3) training level - amount of training they have received in this competency. The professional completing the self-assessment then rates the level of professional development priority for each competency area, identifies their own strengths and areas for professional development, and begins to think about next steps. Assessment results could be used to recognize staff accomplishments as well as plan staff development. It can be used on an individual basis, to assess training needs for the entire staff, or to plan a series of workshops for a group of partner organizations.

A professional development plan could be created for each individual including: areas of strength, areas for professional development, and a development plan using the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Professional Development Plan for Professionals in Microsoft Word Document in Microsoft Word format , Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Professional Development Plan for Professionals - Adobe PDF Document in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. This tool encourages professionals to consider their KSA Assessment results, current responsibilities, and organizational priorities in setting professional development goals. This could be done as part of a quarterly performance review, as recognition of achievement, as staff leadership, and as a means of setting professional goals.

The list of competency areas could also be the focus of a staff meeting or a series of meetings to discuss program-wide training needs. Staff members could each complete the KSA assessment (based on their own needs or what they feel the program needs) and use this information to create a training calendar for the organization.

Staff could also play a role in thinking about organizational development in terms of the KSAs. There may be certain competencies that would be desirable in future hires or organizational partnerships. (e.g. our organization does not have enough in-house knowledge of disability-related resources and we need to partner with an organization with experience in this area.)

If your organization has partners, or is part of a collaborative or local workforce area group, you may want to use the KSAs as part of a group or regional training strategy. Training needs could be assessed across programs and a professional development strategy could be developed involving a common funder, local workforce investment board (WIB), or a combination of in-kind program resources (i.e., space and expertise). (For more ideas about training formats and strategies, see the next question).

Whether used on an individual, program, or multi-organization level, the KSAs can serve as an assessment tool and planning guide as you seek to put together a plan for the comprehensive professional development of your program staff.

5. How can I provide and support professional development opportunities for my staff?

It is important to think about the amount of time and resources that your organization is willing to invest in professional development of your staff when selecting a professional development strategy for your organization. You can use KSA Professional Development Assessment for Organizations and Systems - Microsoft Word Microsoft Word icon , KSA Professional Development Assessment for Organizations and Systems - Adobe PDF Adobe Acrobat icon to assess your organization's professional development readiness. This ten-question assessment will help you put in place the components necessary for an effective professional development system for your staff. (It is equally important to think about the amount of time, three to six months, and money, 29 — 40% of a positions salary, that it takes to replace a current employee with a new one!). Professional development can take many forms, ranging from informal options (self-study of program examples and strategies, online courses, cross-training between partner organizations, and colleague mentoring) to more formal options (in-house training, regional conferences, community college courses, and certifications). The amount of time required can range from a few hours for a conference workshop up to 3,000 hours for the Youth Development Professional Apprenticeship program. It can also range in cost from relatively inexpensive to a substantial investment, for participating in a professional training series or obtaining a college degree. There are many strategies for bringing professional development to your staff. One in-house option is colleague mentoring, job shadowing, or cross-staff training. This takes advantage of the strengths your program already has and recognizes the KSAs of current staff. New employees can be paired with more experienced employees to get some "hands-on" experience. Current employees can also be paired with employees who are proficient in an area they would like to strengthen for mentoring and job shadowing. It is important that part of these experiences be spent in reflection, perhaps a weekly meeting or professional development journal discussing effective strategies or new methods observed.

Another in-house option is inviting employees with extensive experience in a particular area to give a brief training and share resources during regularly scheduled staff meetings. The presenter could be rotated giving each staff member an opportunity to share their area of expertise. Your organization could also hold cross-training sessions between departments; e.g. intake counselors could learn more about daily methods of the GED classes and GED instructors could learn more about assessment, referral and intake procedures, enhancing both groups' job performance.

There are also many options for training from outside your program or organization. Many times partner organizations will cross-train each other (i.e. a Center for Independent Living might provide information on benefits planning to a workforce development program in exchange for training on labor market trends). A group of organizations can take turns providing space and presenting information in a regional collaborative. Government agencies, such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, offer free training or information to programs in their state or locality. Finally, WIBs and other funders provide training for their grantees in needed competencies. The KSAs can be used to suggest areas of training for these grantee technical assistance efforts.

Once you have selected the areas you want to strengthen, you may want to look into a training provider or community college to see if they have any appropriate offerings. If their current offerings do not include courses relevant to youth service professionals, engage them in a discussion to see if they would be willing to develop a program that would be useful not only to your organization but others in the community. You will probably find it useful to involve the local WIB in this endeavor.

You can also connect to your counterparts in the state to organize a state-wide professional development initiative that may be more cost efficient and effective for your organization. Organizations you currently work with may have suggestions for local training providers.

Finally, because of the frequent overlap of youth in various youth-serving systems, you may want to partner with organizations from some other systems, such as those responsible for foster care and mental health. These professional development partnerships can provide a forum for collaborative efforts to better meet the youth development and workforce preparation needs for these highly vulnerable populations.

Many national organizations such as The National Training Institute for Community Youth Work, Goodwill Industries International, and YouthBuild provide training, and there are multiple youth development, education, disabilities, and workforce development conferences each year. You may want to send one or two staff members to a national training or conference and share what they learned with the rest of the staff when they return.

Regardless of whether you choose an in-house, outside, local, state, or national professional development resource, the KSAs can be used to assess your staff’s competencies, prioritize your training needs, and develop a professional development framework that will benefit your program, staff, and ultimately, the youth in your program.

Resources & References

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