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Over six and a half million 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. are not in school or working. Research by Columbia University shows the economic burden of this is not just felt by the youth themselves; society loses out when the potential of these youth is not realized.

For 35 years, the YouthBuild movement has proven that, despite these young people’s disconnection from formal education and employment, they have skills, talent, and motivation. When they are part of a community of adults and peers deeply committed to each other, these youth become leaders in their education, careers, families, and communities.

In the words of Michael Laredo, a YouthBuild graduate, YouthBuild USA is “trying to get out there and reach the folks that probably wouldn’t have been reached.”

The YouthBuild Approach Empowers All Learners

YouthBuild USA, Inc., is an international intermediary for a network of more than 250 community-based YouthBuild programs and schools around the country. Local schools help low-income young people, ages 16 to 24, who left school earn their High School Equivalency or high school diploma, learn career and leadership skills, prepare for postsecondary and career success, and become leaders in their families and communities.

Each year, approximately 9,000 low-income young people, also known as Opportunity Youth, enroll full-time in YouthBuild programs. Learners spend at least 50 percent of their time in academic settings preparing for college and careers and at least 40 percent in hands-on job training. The remaining time includes service and leadership activities.

Approximately 80 percent of YouthBuild students are young people of color; 65 percent are male; and 32 percent are court-involved. Most importantly, YouthBuild USA knows every individual deserves a quality second chance. Each young person represents a critical opportunity for improving our workforce and society.

YouthBuild USA is committed to bringing the voices and experiences of these Opportunity Youth to the conversations about learning differences. Differences in rates of diagnosis, suspension, expulsion, incarceration, college access and completion, and career placement between low-income young people of promise and their peers must be a central part of any solution.

One of YouthBuild USA’s innovative approaches to putting this commitment to supporting all learners into practice is the MyBestBets education and career pathways platform.

Harnessing the Responsive Power of Technology

Choosing a college, selecting a course of study or training program, and launching a career path are not easy choices for anyone, and the stakes for these decisions are especially high for low-income learners. Young people who deserve the most support usually receive the least guidance in answering many of the most important questions of their lives: Where can I gain the knowledge and skills I need to get a good job? What career path should I choose? What is my best bet for securing my future?

YouthBuild USA, with partner Jobs for the Future, has leveraged technology to create the MyBestBets platform, a web and mobile application for low-income young people and their counselors. MyBestBets, which is being used in YouthBuild programs and in community-based organizations and schools in multiple cities, guides young adults into postsecondary education and training pathways leading to credentials and high-growth careers. The platform engages students in self-assessment activities, career exploration, and enrollment tasks. Counselors track the students’ journey through each stage to support students as they learn how to make good decisions through information and digital literacy skill-building activities.

MyBestBets was designed around the commitment that solutions for low-income students must come directly from young people and the practitioners who deeply understand the most pressing issues facing these students. During the design and pilot process, students and counselors participated in design studios and directly informed the iterative development process.

YouthBuild USA also knows that responsive design for students with learning differences represents good design principles for all students. Through a partnership with the Oak Foundation, the platform is being updated to support all learners in multiple ways, including text-to-speech capabilities.

Redesigning New Pathways for the Future of Opportunity Youth

Using what they’ve learned from the design and development of MyBestBets, YouthBuild USA is now developing more responsive IT training pathways. Most existing technology boot camps require more credentials and formal school success than most Opportunity Youth have. “YouthBuild and broader Opportunity Youth programming across the country should evolve to focus on these technical training elements, while also adding a focus on leadership development that is missing from many current technology training programs,” said Scott Emerick, YouthBuild USA Senior Vice President for Education, Career, and Service Pathways.

 By using technology in innovative ways to deepen relationships, YouthBuild USA is empowering young people to transform their lives. As usual, the most important inspiration for thinking about the future of learning remains young people.

YouthBuild graduate Basae Johnson shared, “I came into YouthBuild with the sole goal of attaining my GED; however, I left with much more. I have acquired leadership skills, technology skills, and learned to overcome obstacles in my life. I am now enrolled in an Associate’s degree program in Business Administration and Technology. Along with my increased confidence in a classroom, YouthBuild has helped me overcome my fears.”


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