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PLUGGED IN: Report Offers Lessons Learned from a Latino-Serving, Workforce Development Program

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“Unique life circumstances such as language barriers and questionable immigration statuses are factors that play heavily in the ability of Latino youth to succeed at the rate of their counterparts.”

A new report summarizes the successes and challenges of a Latino-serving, community-based, youth workforce development program and provides lessons learned. The initiative, Escalera Program: Taking Steps to Success, was developed by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in 2001 and is based on an afterschool model to promote economic mobility through educational attainment and career planning.

The report, Plugged In: Positive Development Strategies for Disconnected Latino Youth, examines many of the challenges facing Latino youth. It notes that only 58 percent of Latino youth graduate with a high school, diploma, compared to 78 percent of white students. Additionally, Latino youth were more likely than any other student subgroup to be out of school without a General Equivalency Diploma or high school diploma between the ages of 16 and 24.

“Unique life circumstances such as language barriers and questionable immigration statuses are factors that play heavily in the ability of Latino youth to succeed at the rate of their counterparts,” said Delia Pompa, senior vice president of programs at NCLR. “The support given to Hispanic youth through the Escalera program enables them to control their futures. They identify their strengths and build upon them.”

The report examines the results-to-date of the Escalera program, which is underway in three pilot locations including Austin (TX), Los Angeles (CA), and rural New Mexico. Escalera promotes economic mobility through educational attainment, career planning, and access to information about advanced careers. Its goal is to close the economic gap for Latinos by increasing the number of highly skilled and educated Latino youth and the ability of Hispanic community-based organizations to cultivate the talent pipeline. The report notes that this goal is especially important considering that Latinos are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population and are projected to make up one-third of the American workforce by 2050.

Plugged In finds that across the three sites, several core competencies are central to success, including reconnection, foundation skills, leadership and personal development, educational attainment, workforce readiness skills, and career exploration. Based on these observations, the report offers several recommendations for policymakers, funders, and program administrators serving the Latino population:

  • Encourage collaboration and partnership among local communities and youth-serving programs and institutions through funding that rewards the development of a dropout recovery system that provides seamless wraparound services for most-at-risk populations.
  • Ensure that funding for disconnected youth programs take into account the costs that community-based organizations incur for maintaining appropriate staff-to-youth ratios and training and developing skilled case managers, and the associated costs of providing high-quality case management services.
  • Invest in the development and implementation of programs that offer services to disconnected youth for longer program cycles, and establish qualitative measures of success in addition to quantitative outcomes.
  • Explore models that help families become partners, and include them in each step of participants’ progress to illustrate the merits of involvement and of supporting participants’ educational and professional endeavors.

To read the full report, visit http://bit.ly/fk1Fy7.

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