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Cascade: No. 79, Winter 2012

Getting School and Workforce Systems to Work Together*

Many young people 16 to 24 years of age drop out of high school and are unemployed in cities around the country. Large agencies in education and workforce development often operate independently without a common purpose, but the city of Los Angeles’s plan demonstrates how committed mid-level managers encouraged educational and workforce bureaucracies and other agencies to work together on these issues.

Six years ago, the Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and the city of Los Angeles made getting young people back to school or work a priority. They began shifting their focus from contractual obligations to outcomes.

As a first step, an advisory committee retained a consultant to prepare research on the problem. The resulting research found that nearly 20 percent of the city’s 500,000 residents aged 16 to 24 were out of school and out of work and that young people who dropped out of high school had lower employment, lower earnings, and an increased risk of falling into poverty than students who finished high school.**

Representatives of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, and the Los Angeles Community College District soon joined the committee. Agencies began to dedicate more resources to keeping young people in high school.

The Community Development Department took the following steps:

  • Increased the share of its Workforce Investment Act funding allocated to out-of-school youth from 30 percent to 70 percent.
  • Awarded $5 million in grants to five nonprofits to support high school dropouts as they reentered community college or industry-credentialed pathway programs. (This effort, known as the Reconnections Academy, has served about 1,000 21- to 24-year-olds who are out of school. It was funded primarily with American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants, and an evaluation of the results is underway.)
  • Helped establish an online database of approximately 150 high school dropout recovery sites in Los Angeles.

In addition, the city’s Workforce Investment Board and the LAUSD:

  • Sent staff to visit 1,000 homes of young adults who had left school before graduating and persuaded 800 young people to re-enroll in high school.
  • Are redesigning 13 youth employment centers in high-poverty neighborhoods to become centers where young people can meet with trained counselors to start the process of returning to school and work. (High school dropouts will be targeted in the redesigned centers, instead of a general youth population as in the past. Both community programs and Workforce Investment Act–funded programs will be available at the centers, which will be operated by several nonprofits and are expected to open in July 2012.)

The advisory committee is advocating for funding for high school counselors and specialists in working with high school dropouts. It advocated a restoration of funding after proposed cutbacks would eliminate 100 of about 600 school counselor positions.

Leaders of other school districts, workforce investment boards, and economic development agencies must make this population a priority and find resources to implement policy goals. Mid-level managers have the knowledge and commitment to lead efforts to change programs, but they need CEO support and willingness to clear hurdles. Results should be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

One of the biggest hurdles is getting agencies to stop thinking of “their” programs and “their” students. Instead, they ought to focus on the best fit of programs and young people. Often, the biggest impediments to good youth programs are adult egos.

For information, contact Robert Sainz at 213-359-9218 or robert.sainz@lacity.org E-Mail.

  • * The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.
  • ** Paul Harrington, Alison H. Dickson, Neeta P. Fogg, and Ishwar Khatiwaada, “The Lifetime Employment, Earnings and Poverty Consequences of Dropping Out of High School in the Los Angeles Metro Area,” an unpublished report prepared for the Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, 2010.