If there’s one thing we’re all learning as the impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfold on today’s workforce, it’s that there are many pathways to a career beyond school. One of those pathways that deserves more attention and support is service year programs.
Service year programs offer young people the opportunity to gain real-world skills while holding paid, full-time jobs that help make a difference in their communities. As many as 66,000 Americans each year enroll in one of these service year programs such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, YouthBuild, Teach for America and AmeriCorps VISTA. Currently, about a third of full-time service year positions are targeted at opportunity youth — American youth aged 16–24 who are neither in school nor employed. However, there is more we can do to expand access to these programs to approximately 4.6 million who are considered opportunity youth, or disconnected youth.
“A service year is a tremendous on-ramp for opportunity youth,” says Shirley Sagawa, CEO of Service Year Alliance. “At a time when unemployment rates for youth ages 16-24 are double the national average, it’s critical that we increase the overall number of quality national service positions and especially those filled by opportunity youth so that all young people — no matter their background — have the chance to serve and succeed.”
Increasing that number of service positions was the focus of Service Year Alliance’s first-ever Opportunity Youth Summit in Washington, DC this week. More than one hundred policymakers, thought leaders, service year employers, and opportunity youth gathered on Dec. 3 to discuss the role service years play in creating career pathways and social capital for opportunity youth and how to expand those positions to 100,000 annually by 2022.
Service Year’s Impact
Service year experiences help give opportunity youth a chance at realizing their potential in an environment that gives them meaningful work experience. Resources include mentorship, educational opportunities (high school diploma, college credits, credentials, certifications, etc.), development of 21st-century skills, identifying personal strengths and goals and clear pathways to jobs or further education.
At the summit, four service year alumni shared their experiences of how national service transformed their lives. Watch the video here.
AmeriCorps on Twitter: “.@AmeriCorps alumni at @ServiceYear’s #OYSUMMIT2018 explain how #nationalservice transformed their lives and equipped them with the skills to #GetThingsDone in their communities. pic.twitter.com/7ARTJxlr9T / Twitter”
@AmeriCorps alumni at @ServiceYear’s #OYSUMMIT2018 explain how #nationalservice transformed their lives and equipped them with the skills to #GetThingsDone in their communities. pic.twitter.com/7ARTJxlr9T
One of those people was Amanda Young. She is an example of how a service year experience provided a pathway to a meaningful career when a college degree failed to be enough. After graduating from West Virginia University with overwhelming debt and no professional experience, Amanda had trouble jump-starting her career. On the brink of homelessness after the restaurant she was working at closed, she found out about the AmeriCorps VISTA program through a chef at the restaurant. She went on to do two service years at an adult literacy nonprofit in West Virginia where she coordinated hundreds of volunteers in workshops and events.
“VISTA helped me pay the deposit for an apartment, gave me a living stipend and the education award at the end of my two service years helped to alleviate my debt,” Amanda told WorkingNation.
Amanda said the experience helped her sharpen and strengthen the skills she learned in college while also pushing her out of her comfort zone and getting her engaged civically. Amanda now leads her own AmeriCorps VISTA program called Collaborative @ WVU — a program at West Virginia University that focuses on community development, the opioid crisis, food insecurity, disaster preparedness and combating poverty across the state.
“I really wanted to be in this position because of the core idea of the Collaborative being a way to bridge relationships throughout the university but also the communities that we serve in,” she said.
Stories like these offer a look at the power service year experiences have on a person’s life and career trajectory regardless of their background. Amanda said she wished she would have known about these programs when she was in school as a way to build her resume and help pay for school.
“It can be tough, but the positives outweigh the negatives, and it was worth the struggle. Completing a service year is a fantastic opportunity that opens up your eyes to those different from you and opens up doors that you didn’t have before.”
AmeriCorps on Twitter: “During @ServiceYear’s #OYSUMMIT2018 yesterday, @AmeriCorpsVISTA alum Amanda Young explained how #nationalservice helped her out of homelessness and into a fulfilling career. https://t.co/PsNf2d6soq pic.twitter.com/wPnVI8GTQz / Twitter”
During @ServiceYear’s #OYSUMMIT2018 yesterday, @AmeriCorpsVISTA alum Amanda Young explained how #nationalservice helped her out of homelessness and into a fulfilling career. https://t.co/PsNf2d6soq pic.twitter.com/wPnVI8GTQz
These personal stories are one just one effect service year experiences have in the real world. Another is the effect it has on the economy.
One goal of service year programs is to shape the next generation of leaders and prepare participants for success in a broad range of careers. However, limited large-scale research exists on how service year alumni progress through their careers.
To address this lack of data, Service Year Alliance and Burning Glass Technologies partnered up to find out what education and employment pathways alumni go on to achieve following their service. From its database of more than 80 million resumes, Burning Glass looked at the 70,000 resumes of service year alumni and compared them with 100,000 similar peer resumes.
Their research, released at the summit, found that service year alumni are twice as likely to complete bachelor’s degrees, are more likely to work in education and community and social services occupations, are more likely to begin their careers in higher-paying roles and more likely to advertise desirable leadership and organizational skills.
The Corps Network on Twitter: “#AmeriCorps alum Tim Gunn sharing how his mentor JR introduced him to service & gave him the opportunity to turn around & “plant the seed” of #nationalservice in other young people. Thanks Tim for helping young adults recognize their innate potential #OYSUMMIT2018 #CorpsWork pic.twitter.com/TF7hFiKpBK / Twitter”
AmeriCorps alum Tim Gunn sharing how his mentor JR introduced him to service & gave him the opportunity to turn around & “plant the seed” of #nationalservice in other young people. Thanks Tim for helping young adults recognize their innate potential #OYSUMMIT2018 #CorpsWork pic.twitter.com/TF7hFiKpBK
In short, the report demonstrates that “service year programs are a talent pipeline for skills that are in high demand across many occupations and professions” while “providing an on-ramp into the workforce.”
At a time when technology is offering pathways to gain much-needed skills for today’s changing jobs, service year programs provide something online educational tools don’t — skills that transcend community and industry. Skills like effective communication, teamwork, customer service, a sense of social duty and working with a diverse group of people.
Service Year on Twitter: “Some of the skills that transcend community and industry: effective communication, teamwork, and customer service. All skills you learn during a #serviceyear. #OYSummit2018 pic.twitter.com/uObw7APIix / Twitter”
Some of the skills that transcend community and industry: effective communication, teamwork, and customer service. All skills you learn during a #serviceyear. #OYSummit2018 pic.twitter.com/uObw7APIix
Additional resources need to be put into expanding these kinds of programs across the country to help develop talent for today and tomorrow’s workforce. In its new report, Investing in Service Years: A Strategy to Ensure the Future Success of the Nation’s Opportunity Youth, Service Year Alliance is calling on Congress to increase funding to AmeriCorps and YouthBuild and pass the 21st Century Conservation Corps legislation to enable more young adults to complete a service year.
Matt Wilhelm on Twitter: “Excited to share that I’ve taken steps toward intro’ing my first bill as State Rep: to create a committee to study career pathways from service year positions to higher education + employment to support NH workforce development. #nhpolitics #OYSummit2018https://t.co/FkPvxeA6W4 / Twitter”
Excited to share that I’ve taken steps toward intro’ing my first bill as State Rep: to create a committee to study career pathways from service year positions to higher education + employment to support NH workforce development. #nhpolitics #OYSummit2018https://t.co/FkPvxeA6W4
Making service a possibility for all young people and “uniting opportunity youth across the country in common purpose has the potential to tackle pressing community challenges, and to develop and prepare each of them with skills and experiences that will lead to a well- paying job, and a career,” says Daniel Pitasky, executive director of the Schultz Family Foundation, a co-sponsor of the report.
A combined effort from policymakers, programs, employers and communities, as explained in the report, can help increase the annual number of opportunity youth doing a service year fourfold while saving taxpayers billions of dollars over time.
“One estimate places the lifetime direct cost to taxpayers of one 20-year-old who does not reconnect to education or employment at $235,680, and the social cost at $704,020,” Service Year Alliance CEO Sagawa said in The Hill this week.
“Talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not. By developing more inclusive talent pipelines, companies can identify, train and hire young people who can contribute to their success and growth,” said Linda Rodriguez, executive director of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, a co-sponsor of the report.
Opportunity Iowa on Twitter: “RT @ “”Employers shouldn’t just be thinking about how to connect opportunity youth to a first job but also how to encourage growth throughout a career.” -Mike Knapp of Skill Smart #OYSummit2018 pic.twitter.com/6zLJI2Rn1x” / Twitter”
RT @ “”Employers shouldn’t just be thinking about how to connect opportunity youth to a first job but also how to encourage growth throughout a career.” -Mike Knapp of Skill Smart #OYSummit2018 pic.twitter.com/6zLJI2Rn1x”
This is a powerful, underutilized solution to improving career outcomes for
opportunity youth and addressing worker shortages in job markets. It’s as Sagawa put it, “an investment in service [that] is simply one we cannot afford to pass up.”
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