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Workforce Development for Complex Needs Youth

Connecting to the world of work is a challenge most youth overcome, often with just a little help. Unfortunately, 2.8 million youth in the juvenile justice, foster care and mental health systems are disconnected from the people and experiences that would otherwise help them make this important connection and develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for long-term labor market success.

Disconnected young people have lower rates of labor force participation and fewer opportunities to discover their own unique contribution to the world of work. YAP Advocates expose youth to specific career pathways, service opportunities and skill building opportunities. They also help to “spark” youth investments in education, skills training, and pursuing positive lifestyles by showing them how it relates to future economic self-sufficiency. Without these real life sparks, most young people may say, “why bother.”

YAP’s Workforce Development Model is developed on a Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) framework. It’s a bit of a departure from traditional Workforce Development Approaches in that it can be used 1:1 or in groups; it can be individualized to meet the specific needs of each youth; and it can be delivered in a classroom, living room, kitchen table, front stoop or park bench. Advocates don’t wait for youth to show up; they are “feet in the street” and meet with youth where they are, building a trust relationship through their relentless outreach and responsiveness to the youth’s needs and preferences. These attributes help to engage those youth who otherwise may not succeed in more traditional workforce development programs.

YAPWORX has a number of important elements. First, youth are engaged in experiential work learning experiences, whereby they are exposed to different employers within their local labor market and reflecting areas of youth interest. Second, YAPWORX uses service learning opportunities as a follow up to each site visit. These projects are cognitive based and help youth to more deeply and thoroughly absorb the particular skill they are working to develop. Finally, YAPWORX engages Opportunity Advisors.

Opportunity Advisors are individuals who are employed in different jobs and volunteer to meet with our young people to help learn the skills, credentials, and education they need to gain employment in that particular field. They answer youth questions about things such as confrontation in the workplace, drug testing, and social media. And most importantly, they are helping our youth to build social capital that is instrumental to shaping their perceptions about employment and often, helpful to obtaining employment

For more information, please see our resources on the left or contact Gary Ivory, President at or his Executive Assistant Terri Camara at