Youth Service Professional Section — KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, & Abilities) of Youth Service Professionals


As a youth service professional, you are the face of workforce development for most youth who come to your program. Whether or not the young person has a good experience depends on the work that you do. Research has shown the importance of a positive and caring relationship with an adult in increasing youth outcomes and decreasing risky behaviors. In this ever-changing field, many workforce development professionals’ responsibilities have expanded to include working with youth. These responsibilities may include: recruiting youth; assessing youth; counseling youth; running group activities; job matching; and specialized support to employers. Too often, professionals do not receive any additional training to match these new responsibilities. Working with all youth in the workforce development setting requires a specific set of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). These KSAs will make your job easier and ensure the youth you work with have the best experience possible.



1. What are the KSAs and how can they help me in my work?

The KSAs are the knowledge, skills, and abilities professionals need to work successfully with youth in the workforce development arena. The KSAs are organized into 10 Competency Areas which were compiled from over 70 initiatives from the fields of youth development, workforce development, education, and disabilities. (See Appendix A & B of the KSA White Paper KSA white paper in PDF format Document in Adobe PDF format, KSA white paper in Word format Document in Microsoft Word format). 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 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 detailed list of the competencies required in each of the 10 Competency Areas, please see the Synthesis of Competencies of Youth Service Professionals)

Knowledge of the Field is the first core competency listed because it is the foundation for the work that you do. In order to work effectively with all youth in workforce development, you must have a working knowledge of the relevant youth employment and disability laws, youth and adolescent development, professional ethics (such as boundaries and disclosure considerations), and your personal mission (why you do this work). Every set of competencies reviewed started with this basic foundation in and understanding of the field in which the professional was working. The Collaborative has a resource-rich website with information briefs on relevant legislation, Youth Development & Leadership, disabilities basics, and disclosure to help professionals build this foundation.

Although all areas were rated as highly relevant on the questionnaire, the three areas which ranked the highest in relevancy were: Communication with Youth, Assessment and Individualized Planning, and Connection to Resources. These areas may not surprise you; studies have shown the importance of a positive and caring adult in increasing youth outcomes. Professionals must be able to relate to, advocate for, to motivate, and to engage youth in order to be effective in this work.

Professionals must also provide appropriate Assessment and Individualized Planning to be sure each youth gets the opportunities, supports, and services that best match their interests, strengths, and areas for growth. In the focus groups, many professionals spoke of their struggle with finding appropriate assessments. In response, the Collaborative has developed a Guide to Assessment to assist professionals in identifying the reasons for and the methods of assessing youth.

No youth professional has enough hours in the day, resources, or hands to do everything, although too often we try! This is probably the reason that Connection to Resources was rated so relevant to the work. A good professional has to have a ready list of local, state, and national resources to get the support and services they need for youth. With so many targeted youth populations overlapping (e.g. out-of-school youth, youth with disabilities, and foster care youth), collaborating with other organizations is key to providing the best mix of opportunities, services, and supports for all youth. The Collaborative has a series of "Quick Reference Guides,” desktop reference sheets with basic definitions and resources.

One of the most important collaborations is that with employers and industry, therefore it is critical that professionals have resources for Relationships with Employers and Between Employers & Employees. This area was one which youth professionals felt had the highest relevancy but one in which they received the least amount of training. The Collaborative info brief Strategies for Youth Workforce Programs to Become Employer-Friendly Intermediaries lists some of the main expectations of employers and some simple ways to meet (and exceed!) them. There is also an “Employer Guideposts” publication that helps employers understand the workplace elements necessary to best support youth as they transition to adulthood and the world of work. If you are working with an “intermediary,” an organization that connects you to or facilitates your relationship with employers and industry, 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 have strategies for and examples of ways that intermediaries can better assist you in meeting the needs of employers.

Although these competency areas ranked the highest in relevancy, as you read through the detailed list of competencies under each of the 10 core competency areas, you will probably see many that relate to your daily work. You are already probably quite proficient at many of these competencies, but there may be some areas where you may want to improve. These competencies are meant as a framework for thinking about the qualifications and professional development of both individual professionals, organizations, and the field as a whole.

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2. How can I use the KSAs to strengthen my work?

The first thing you may want to do is a self-assessment. Any self-assessment should take into account your current responsibilities, your career goals and your organization’s priorities and needs. You can do this informally by looking at the chart and thinking about which areas you already feel competent in and which areas you would like to improve. If you would like to do something more formal or in writing, you may want to 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 to determine the relevancy of each area to your job, your current proficiency in that area, and your level of training in it. It may also be a good idea to ask a colleague or supervisor to assess you in the 10 competency areas. This can be extremely helpful in getting a true picture of your own competencies and areas where you may need additional professional development.

Once you have identified the three competency areas you feel are the priority areas you would like to strengthen, you may want to create a professional development plan. This plan should include:

  • your personal strengths and career goals;
  • your organization’s challenges and priorities;
  • the competencies that you would like to improve;
  • the professional development activities planned;
  • the resources needed to complete those activities;
  • a timetable for the professional development activities; and
  • the expected results or accomplishments (demonstration of learning/proficiency)

You can use the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Professional Development Plan 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 or a professional development plan of your own organization, if applicable. Once you have developed your plan, you may want to review it with a trusted colleague or your supervisor. There are many options for professional development with a wide range of time commitments and requirements (the next question has some professional development suggestions and resources). Through the strengthening of your own KSAs, you will be working more effectively and improving the outcomes for all the youth you serve. You are the “face” of workforce development and the key to connecting all youth to workforce development opportunities.

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3. How can I access professional development?

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. 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 may want to talk to your supervisor to clarify the professional development policies and options at your organization. Once you have this information, you can make a professional development plan that includes organizationally-supported activities, as well as other independent professional development activities you feel are appropriate given your goals and interests.

There are many strategies for accessing professional development through your organization and on your own. 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. As a new employee, you may be paired with a more experienced employee to get some "hands-on" experience. As a continuing employee, you may ask to be paired for mentoring and job shadowing with an employee proficient in an area that you would like to strengthen. It is important that each of these experiences provide opportunities for reflection, i.e. perhaps through the conducting of a weekly meeting or the keeping of a 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. You may want to look at the areas you identified as strengths on your KSA Assessment to see if these are areas in which you could offer training to others.

Departments in your organization could also hold cross-training sessions for other 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. Intake counselors would know more about the options for the youth they are referring and course instructors would have a better understanding of the path youth take to get to their classroom and what additional resources are available for those youth.

There are also many options for training from outside your program or organization. Many times partner organizations will cross-train each other (e.g. 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 could take turns providing space and presenting information in a regional collaborative. Government organizations, such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, offer free training or information to programs in their state or locality.

WIBs and other funders may also provide training for their grantees in needed competencies. The KSAs could 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 you as a youth service professional, you or your organization may want to 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 colleagues from other organizations around the state to organize a state-wide professional development initiative that may be more cost efficient and effective for your own organization. Colleagues and 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 reach out to professionals from other systems, such as those responsible for foster care and mental health for youth. Perhaps, you could organize a “brown bag lunch” or other inexpensive forum to discuss the needs of these clients and how combined professional development efforts can provide a forum for collaborative efforts to better meet the youth development and workforce preparation needs of these highly vulnerable populations.

Many national organizations such as National Training Institute for Community Youth Work, Goodwill, and YouthBuild provide training; and there are multiple youth development, education, disabilities, and workforce development conferences each year. Your organization may send one or two staff members to a national training or conference and upon their return they can report to the rest of the staff at a meeting.

If your organization is unable to support your professional development at this time, you may want to create a self-study plan which includes a mix of some of the options mentioned. You could read and do research on a particular competency area, ask a proficient colleague for mentoring and/or resources, or take a course from a local government agency, partner organization, or community college. Regardless of whether you choose an in-house, outside, local, or national professional development resource, the KSAs can be used to assess your competencies, prioritize your training needs, and develop a professional development plan that will benefit you, your program, and ultimately, the youth that are a part of your program.

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4. How will professional development in the KSAs help my organization and the youth we serve?

Professional staff development can provide multiple benefits to your organization. Specifically professional development can improve your organization’s capacity to work effectively with the youth it serves, increase the job satisfaction of current employees, and save the time and money associated with finding new employees. Your organization can also use the KSAs to plan for new hires and to form new partnerships to close gaps in in-house competencies.

The KSAs benefit youth by making sure they are being served by professionals with the right mix of competencies to best connect them to the opportunities and resources they deserve. Studies have shown the importance of program quality, as well as a consistent caring adult in a youth’s life. Professional development has been tied to the implementation of better practices with youth, more youth participation in program decisions, better networking and information sharing between organizations, an improved program environment and increased youth outcomes.

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Resources & References

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