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Now that the election is behind us, it is time to focus on where to go from here. Yes, the economy has started to improve, but any recent drop in unemployment is still more of a sign of where we’ve been than where we need to be. More than ten million Americans are still looking for a job to support their children, pay off college loans or take care of aging loved ones. With so much time and effort paid this year on numbers and statistics – and what those numbers mean for politics – we now have a chance to focus on the programs that actually get results.
As we look deeper at the subsets of people who make up the 12.1 million Americans looking for work, an especially vulnerable population is out of school youth. Here in Los Angeles, the LA Reconnection Career Academy, a career development collaborative, is working to address the population of nearly 100,000 unemployed out of school youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Through an approach that incorporates the perspectives of educators, social service providers and business leaders, we are ensuring youth get the tools they need to get back on the road to meaningful employment. We help them receive educational services to facilitate a return to school, bridge training and work readiness, occupational career training, placement in education, and any necessary counseling services they may need.
Key to our success is the collaborative efforts of public and private partners. We work closely with not only Mayor Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council, but with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) representing the voice of the education sector and with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Workforce Collaborative as well. To ensure we are effectively preparing our nation’s youth for a globally competitive workforce, we must work hand in hand with the private sector.
Our work, and work like this happening in communities across the country, is being made possible by a new Workforce Innovation Fund, operated by the US Department of Labor, in collaboration with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. One of the most important factors to this new Fund is its emphasis on results and evidence. Grants are provided through a competitive application process and awarded to only those projects that demonstrate innovative strategies or replicate effective evidence-based strategies that align and strengthen the workforce investment system in order to improve program delivery as well as education and employment outcomes for program beneficiaries.
A portion of every grant must be used to evaluate effectiveness of the program to ensure future investment only in what works. At the LA Reconnection Career Academy, that means measuring our results in re- engaging youth who face daunting odds to achieving educational and employment success by collecting data on educational attainment, employment, earnings, and other key outcomes. With this information, it isn’t only the Academy’s programs that benefit, but with evidence of effective principles, we can apply them to many other areas throughout the country.
The jobs crisis in our country is too dire to continue spending taxpayer dollars on programs and strategies that have demonstrated a consistent track record of lackluster results. We must continue to encourage evidence-based investment in workforce development programs to ensure that as the conversation over unemployment numbers continues, we have a better understanding of what it takes to change them.