The concept of Youth Development is used to design youth programs through a positive lens, viewing youth as positive assets to the community and understanding the positive experiences that contribute to personal development. Youth development theory emphasizes the idea of focusing on assets rather than deficits, viewing youth employment programs and summer jobs programs not as “keeping kids off the streets” or “crime prevention”, but as positive opportunities to develop skills, make a contribution to the community, earn money, gain work experience, gain career awareness and build a resume.
In the spirit of youth development, it is useful to recognize the assets that youth bring to their jobs, as well as to understand the developmental needs of youth as they gain their first work experiences. Therefore, when supervising youth in youth employment programs, finding the right level of supervisory support is important. As teens and young adults begin their early work experiences, they bring a mixture of skills and readiness to these experiences. Teens and young adults have an emerging ability for complex reasoning and intellectual development. They are excited by opportunities to learn about the background and history of an organization, understand the larger context of their work, and understand how their work contributes to the goals of the organization. They appreciate settings in which they are respected and treated like adults. At the same time, while youth are starting to develop problem-solving skills, and starting to learn about careers and work, they generally need clear guidance about how to manage workplace expectations for time management, attendance and punctuality, workplace appearance, taking initiative and other basic skills.
Many youth employment programs provide orientation sessions and workshops to provide coaching about basic workplace expectations and skills as well as other topics. Programs also use informal, one-on-one coaching to support youth. In both formal and informal orientation, the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plan helps to open up conversations between supervisors and youth about a range of topics relevant to skill development.
- Use the Work-Based Learning Plan (WBLP) as a tool to open up conversations about the context of the work, the history and goals of the organization, and other topics of interest, as well as to outline the basic foundation skills needed on the job. Communicate excitement about the organization and its role in the community. Share information about the organizational history, current projects, the number of customers or visitors, etc.
- When practical, when writing a job description and list of skills/tasks, include information about “who, what, when, where, why, how” in order to share information about the context of the work.
- Emphasize workplace safety through Work-Based Learning Plans and through formal or informal orientation to the workplace.
- Throughout the WBLP and other program materials, use language that sets a positive, professional tone. Read more about language and youth development in the article Marketing and Messaging in Youth Employment Programs.
In workshops about the Work-Based Learning Plan for youth employment program staff, I often ask participants to think about the best summer job they ever had. Images of working at a favorite ice cream shop, a family-owned dress shop, a beach, a farm, a playground, a zoo and many other diverse workplace settings enter the conversation. Images of informal mentoring, a sense of “belonging” and a sense of accomplishment are important. These are the positive moments of summer for youth and young adults working in first jobs.