Retention is an important issue for many employers. Employees who feel respected and valued in the workplace tend to stay in their positions longer. One study of youth employment cited worksite supervisors as a critical contributing factor to a youth’s successful work experience. “Good supervisors combined knowledge of the job with empathy for and genuine interest in the youngsters enrolled in the program.” (Westat, 1994.) This is especially important for young employees who may be new to the workforce and the work experience.

Working effectively with youth in the area of workforce development takes specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). As you seek to welcome young workers into your organization, it is important to be sure that those employees who will be supervising and/or working with the youth are prepared to create a positive work experience for everyone involved. Youth programs placing youth with your organization should have youth professionals which have these KSAs available to help ensure that the work experience is a positive one for both the youth and your business.


1. What are the KSAs and how will having staff with the KSAs help my organization?

The KSAs are the knowledge, skills, and abilities 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. These are initiatives that identified core competencies and/or launched some effort to either train or certify individuals based upon those competencies. The initial draft list of competencies was subsequently validated by youth professionals, program managers, and stakeholders from the field through focus groups, conference calls, meetings, and an online feedback form relating to 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)

Although all of these areas are important for a youth program placing youth at your organization, the areas of Assessment and Individualized Planning, Workforce Preparation, and Career Exploration are most important to you as an employer . Professionals placing youth in your work place with these competencies can assist you in making an appropriate job match, thereby providing the best start for both your organization and the youth. To facilitate a good match, the professional may ask you questions about the working environment and culture of your organization, as well as the specific responsibilities of the job. In the KSA questionnaire, youth professionals indicated that Relationships with Employers & Between Employer and Employee were areas extremely relevant to their jobs, but areas in which they had not received a lot of training.

Strategies for Youth Workforce Programs to Become Employer-Friendly Intermediaries is an information brief which helps youth programs better connect with employers. You may want to look at this brief to get an idea of what you should expect from the youth program that you are partnering with. (You may also want to share it with your youth program partner if they have not already seen it as a way to strengthen your work together.) If you are working with an “intermediary,” an organization that connects you to, or facilitates your relationship with a workforce program or board, you may want to look at Facilitating Employer Engagement Among WIB Partners: A Role for Intermediaries or Blending and Braiding Funds and Resources: The Intermediary as Facilitator. Both information briefs provide strategies for and examples of ways in which intermediaries can better meet the needs of employers.

Finally, although these KSAs are mainly targeted to youth service professionals; they can also be helpful to members of your staff who will be working directly with the youth placed at your facility. For example, knowing about “motivating and engaging youth” in the Communicating with Youth competency area, and "helping youth to set realistic goals and action steps" and "understanding how to use information from assessments and records and to recognize implications for employment, including any potential need for accommodations and assistive technology" in the Assessment and Individualized Planning competency area can help these staff to assist you in meeting your business’ needs. Your youth workforce program partner may also be able to provide some pointers and support . For many young people this will be one of the first, if not their very first, work experience. Familiarity with the KSAs and support from a youth professional well-versed in the KSAs can help to ensure that the work experience is a positive one for all parties involved.
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2. How can an employer use the KSAs when placing young employees in an organization?

In order to help you with job matching and placement, your contact at the youth workforce program will probably ask you questions about the work place environment and culture. (e.g. What is the dress code? Is it a very structured or relaxed working climate? Will the youth have a designated work space?) They will also ask questions about the job responsibilities. (e.g. What are the main responsibilities the youth will carry out during the work day? Does the job require interacting with the public? Will there be lifting or a lot of walking around? What level of reading, writing, or math is required for this position?) The professional may even visit your work site to understand the physical layout, as well as meet the potential supervisor and co-workers. All of this information will assist the professional in making the best match for the youth and your organization.

However, you know the most about your organization and employees. As you think about where to place the youth in your organization you may want to think about which employees relate well to youth.

“Worksite supervisors need to be selected who have the ingenuity to achieve the goals of the program by balancing the special problems of disadvantaged youth with the importance of learning the basic skills and discipline of the workplace.” (Westat, 1994)

Worksite supervisors can learn more about working with youth through some of the resources listed in the resources section. The supervisor should be an employee who is willing to work with the youth, with the support of the professional from the youth program, to develop realistic goals and a work plan for the young worker. If you or your employees are not experienced in working with youth with disabilities you may also want to check out the resources section for material about working with youth with disabilities and disabilities inquiries in the workplace. The employees who serve as supervisors do not have to be youth or disabilities experts; they just have to be open to working with youth and willing to work with the youth program staff to create the best experience for the youth, themselves, and the organization.

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3. How can an employer help their employees develop the KSAs necessary to work with young employees?

Most of the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to work with youth will be supplied by the professional at the youth workforce program. However, it is important for the employee supervising the youth and those working along side the youth to be comfortable in their roles and clear on what is expected of them. If your employee or organization plans to be employing youth frequently or wants to strengthen some of the KSAs needed to work with youth, your first resource should be the youth program you are working with. They should be willing to sit down with your staff and discuss expectations and roles. In addition, they should be able to point you to additional resources on youth development, communicating with youth, and any additional KSAs needed for working with youth with disabilities.

In addition to the youth program, local workforce investment boards (WIBS) or Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) may offer informational sessions or free materials on working with all youth. Finally, there are several national hotlines and websites which offer information specifically tailored to employers on working with youth, including youth with disabilities. The Department of Labor has detailed information about youth and labor on their website. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides information about job accommodation, ADA , and the employability of people with disabilities. With the right mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities, employing youth will be an experience that benefits your organization, its employees and the youth.

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Resources & References

  • KSA Chart Handout
    Identifies the 10 Competency Areas and their related competencies. Competencies include the basic competencies required to serve all youth as well as the additional competencies required to work with youth with disabilities.
  • Strategies for Youth Workforce Programs to Become Employer-Friendly Intermediaries
    Offers basic employer-friendly strategies that will assist intermediaries and their representatives in making productive connections with employer customers that can result in successful work experiences for youth. Includes the main four expectations of employers and strategies to meet them.
  • Youth Development and Leadership in Programs
    Describes the five areas of youth development and ways that common workplace activities can contribute to youth development in each area.
  • Disabilities Inquiries
    Designed for professionals and employers and clarifies what you can and cannot ask about a person’s disabilities in various pre- and ongoing employment settings.
  • Disabilities Basics
    This section of the NCWD/Youth website contains guidelines that can help you work with customers with disabilities, including language and etiquette tips as well as information on specific disabilities.

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