Using Afterschool Programs to Promote Workforce Development

Leaders in large and small cities recognize the importance of a well-educated and prepared workforce for the overall prosperity of their communities. However, there is general consensus that the regular school day does not provide sufficient time to provide young people with the 21st century skills necessary to succeed in today’s workforce. This lack of preparedness has daunting implications for our country’s economic growth.


According to Education Next, countries that do well on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) have greater increases in their GDP growth. In the U.S., students fare poorly on PISA scores when compared to other countries. Furthermore, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act posits that more than half of the country’s workforce between the ages of 16 and 65 lack the literacy and technical skills needed for today’s knowledge-based economy. It is projected that by 2022, this skills gap will create a shortage of 11 million workers who do not have the necessary postsecondary education — a bachelor’s degree or certification — required by employers.

This skill gap exists for cities of all sizes but in many ways poses a greater challenge for small and rural communities, as job opportunities tend to be fewer and mobility is restricted in these areas. However, afterschool and summer learning has the potential to provide a space where young people can develop necessary 21st century skills, while also exploring career interests.


Credit: Getty images

According to Corporate Voices for Working Families, quality afterschool programs “provide a unique venue in which young people can develop the range of skills they need to enter the 21st Century workplace.” Afterschool opportunities to enhance workplace skills can include job shadowing, mentoring, youth employment, internships and other experiences that incorporate real-world experience and community involvement.

Afterschool as a Workforce Development Strategy

Many small communities recognize the importance of workforce development and have leveraged the afterschool hours to provide high-quality workforce development opportunities. Critical to their success has been an understanding of community context. For example, in Falls City and Umatilla, Ore., Mayor Amy Houghtaling and Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe, respectively, have made steps to address the challenges posed by intergenerational poverty in their cities. Both leaders recognize that one of the keys to addressing poverty is access to education and jobs, and have championed afterschool programming as a venue for accessing both for young people.

Youth Employment


Credit: Getty Images

In Falls City, Ore., Mayor Houghtaling runs the afterschool program that provides employment opportunities for the city’s high school students. Falls City students who are interested in learning more about education and leadership can assist in running afterschool programs for younger students, giving them the opportunity to give back to the community, develop relationships with their younger peers and get real-world work experience.

Career Exploration

In Umatilla, Ore., a strong partnership between the school district and community organizations has made workplace experience and training possible for youth. Prior to this partnership, the motivation among young people in Umatilla to pursue careers beyond those available in their hometown was limited. According to Umatille School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe, youth in Umatilla were incredibly talented but many were not interested in pursuing a college degree or a career — indifference that came from fear and a lack of precedent. To encourage more postsecondary attainment, the school district implemented “Success 101,” a required high school course where students develop a 10-year life plan and map out economic strategies and career paths. The course has resulted in increased postsecondary persistence and attainment, and is helping the city to cultivate a more skilled workforce.

Leveraging Local Businesses

In Ville Platte, La., Mayor Jennifer Vidrine has supported the Youth Opportunity Unlimited (Y.O.U.) program for nearly a decade. Y.O.U. is a mentoring and workforce development program that targets at-risk youth. The mission of Y.O.U is to prepare students to become engaged citizens and productive, successful employees through specialized skills instruction, work experience in a mentored environment and career exploration. Y.O.U. students participate in weekly trainings that include character education, workforce skills and business etiquette, social development and money management. Since its inception, the program has graduated over 440 students.

Afterschool is a key strategy to ensure young people are gaining the 21st century skills necessary to succeed in the global economy. These programs provide a space for young people to explore career interests, build critical skills and gain access and information about postsecondary opportunities.