Today’s youth are not faring well in the labor market. The employment rates of young people continuously declined between 2000 and 2003, and the rate for youth ages 16 to 19 has reached its lowest point since World War II. Less educated youth and youth with disabilities experience particularly poor education and employment outcomes.

Joblessness among America’s youth, both with and without disabilities, has significant implications for the U.S. economy. When youth fail to enter the labor market, the result is reduced labor input, which leads to reduced production and output of the U.S. economy. Youth who lack work experience are generally less employable as adults. Youth earnings are positive for the U.S. economy because they lead to increased tax revenue, as well as increased consumption among young people, which raises demand throughout the economy and increases employment levels for other adult workers. For these reasons, it is important for the U.S. workforce development system to strengthen its capacity to provide effective training and preparation for young people, both with and without disabilities, so that they can enter and succeed in the labor market.

The range of settings in which youth receive workforce development services is wide and the responsibilities of the staff serving youth call for both general and specialized knowledge. Youth service professionals are often the first contact or “face” of the workforce development system. They play an important role in connecting all youth to workforce preparation opportunities and support. Youth service professionals need certain knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to do this work effectively. Youth service professionals must not only keep pace with constant changes in the labor market, as the nation’s economy shifts and new technologies evolve, but, in addition must also keep up with the evolving needs and culture of today’s youth.

In spite of the importance of youth workforce development and the key role that youth service professionals play in this process, there is no single comprehensive system that:

  1. Outlines core competencies for working with all youth in the workforce development system;
  2. Offers trainings and courses; and
  3. Culminates in certification or a degree.

Some organizations outline competencies, others offer training, while still others give credentials or certifications. With this wide range of offerings, there is no way for programs, funders, families, or even the professionals themselves to know whether a professional has the requisite KSAs to effectively complete their very important role in the transition of youth. In order to build and maintain an effective workforce development system, it is essential to establish an effective professional development system for the youth service professionals who are responsible for shaping the future workers and leaders of this nation’s economy.


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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 online questionnaire 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)

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2. Why are KSAs important to youth in my community?

These competencies are important to youth in your community because the presence of a consistent, caring adult has been show to improve youth outcomes and decrease risky behavior. Youth service professionals must know about adolescent development, follow appropriate youth employment and disabilities laws, communicate with, motivate, engage, accurately assess and place youth, connect to and support employers, communities, and families, and then complete all the paperwork to do their jobs. Research has linked professional development to increased job satisfaction, more youth involvement, improved practice, and better youth outcomes. Improved youth outcomes, such as more community involvement, less risky behaviors, improved academic scores, and better job retention, benefit not only for youth and the programs that serve them, but are good for the entire community.

In an online questionnaire of professionals, managers, and administrators, Communication with Youth, Connection to Resources, and Assessment/Individualized Planning were the three competency areas ranked most relevant to the work of youth service professionals. In addition, the Relationships with Employers & Employees competency area showed a significant gap between its relevancy to the work and the amount of training received.

The feedback received showed that professionals were receiving a significant amount of training in the Administrative competency area. This suggests that at some level a system for professional development is already in place in most organizations and may just need to be supported or expanded. This questionnaire information suggests some simple first steps that policy makers could take to enhance youth service professional professional development.

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3. What is the role of local, state, and national policymakers in creating a system of professional development for youth service professionals?

There are many ways that national and state policy makers can support the creation of a system of professional development for youth service professionals. Some of these include:

  • Building Consensus – Policy makers can bring together important stakeholders – youth, professionals, administrators, employers, funders, WIBs, and families – to talk about what competencies are needed to best connect all youth to workforce development opportunities and experiences in your area.
  • Setting Requirements – Some cities and states have already started to set training and competency requirements for youth service professionals. The KSAs could be used as a framework for setting these requirements in your area or jurisdiction.
  • Maximizing and Blending Funding Streams for Professional Development - Policy makers can compare the needs identified within their community with the professional development resources available (training capacity, as well as funding allowances within current regulations) and create a funding plan that maximizes current resources. This may include collaborations between agencies to support common trainings, convening, or knowledge-sharing.
  • Requiring Professional Development Goals in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) – RFPs could have specific requirements concerning organization’s plans for professional development and requiring all staff to reach a certain level of training and competency.
  • Provide Training – Many cities and states have started to provide training in critical areas to youth service professionals in their areas. The KSAs could be used as framework to assess the training needs in your area and create a series of professional development activities.

The 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 is a ten-question survey that helps policymakers ensure that all the necessary components are in place to support the creation of a system of professional development for youth service professionals.

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4. How difficult is it to incorporate the KSAs into the workforce development system?

Many of the foundational pieces for professional development and use of the KSAs are already in place. Demand and support is already in place and building. The series of focus groups, conference calls, and stakeholder meetings found wide-spread support for the KSAs, as well as a system for training and certification of youth service professionals. Much current legislation, including the Workforce Investment Act, already has flexible spending built in that can be used to support professional development. Some cities, counties, and states have already started to require and supply professional development for youth service professionals (i.e. City of Chicago Department of Children and Youth Services).

See also Pinellas County, Florida.

The KSAs build on some of the professional development blocks that are already in place because they were developed from and cross-walk with the competencies listed by many prominent organizations and initiatives in the workforce development, youth development, and disability fields. The KSAs could be used as the basis for self-assessments, performance reviews, training priorities, and hiring decisions. Much of the needed professional development could be done in-house or between partner organizations with a little support from policymakers for the use of time and resources.

There are also many local, state, and national training organizations that are already offering training in some of the KSAs. State and local government agencies, as well as funders, such as foundations, private companies, donors – anyone who funds youth development or workforce development programs, could identify or develop trainings to fill the gaps. The KSAs could be used as framework to bring all these offerings into a cohesive professional development system for youth service professionals allowing them to more effectively connect all youth to the best opportunities and resources.

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5. How can we ensure that youth with disabilities have access to youth service professionals with the critical KSAs to support their transition to adulthood?

All of the “vulnerable” or “neediest” youth populations have considerable overlap with the population of youth with disabilities. Some estimates suggest that one in eight youth have some type of disabilities (many still hidden or undiagnosed). Due to this overlap, success in serving these groups is largely contingent on being able to effectively address the needs of youth with disabilities. Every list of KSAs and professional development system relating to workforce development should therefore reflect the additional knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to effectively include youth with disabilities. While every youth service professional need not be a disability expert, each should have some basic knowledge about disability, should know how to connect with available disability resources, and know when and how to call in an expert if one is needed.

Policy makers can be sure that all legislation, regulations, and RFPs have explicit language concerning the inclusion of youth with disabilities and the additional KSAs necessary to work with all youth. Additionally, policy makers can be sure the necessary training is available in their area – creating a clearinghouse of disabilities trainings, organizations, and resources for youth programs and helping to find or develop resources where there are gaps. Due to the great overlaps in youth population, any area that hopes to have success for all youth will need to effectively support the transition of youth with disabilities.

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 area's professional development readiness. This ten-question assessment will help you put in place the components necessary for an effective professional development system for youth service professionals in your community.

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