Yesterday, we at the HYP attended “Vocationalizing Youth Services”, a regional training hosted by the Homeless Youth Capacity Building Project and facilitated by Larry Robbin, an expert in the field of job services. Prior to this training I had a strong conviction that education was the only means of obtaining stability for youth. This conviction was heavily influenced by my own personal experience of using my education and supports from this system to find stability and success in my own life. However, this training demonstrated to me that my pathway to stability may not be the right path for every homeless youth and that it is critical as I continue to analyze the issue of youth homelessness in California that I do not project my own path onto others who are currently homeless.
The Oakland workshop was filled with service providers who had a sense of enthusiasm in the upcoming strategies they would learn from Robbin. Among these strategies were:
· Engaging the business community to help youth find jobs. Encourage business partners to give tours of their organization or let a youth do a job shadow in return for their business.
· Addressing hidden mental and physical health disabilities that can be a barrier to employment.
· Helping youth find and cultivate their hidden assets.
Robbin began to ask people what in their life contributed to the belief that working is a positive, integral part of their life. The people in the room provided answers such as making a difference, independence, financial stability, creative expression, the work family, and the satisfaction of being a productive member of society were what made them proud to be part of today’s job market. Robbin stated that it is important to communicate these values to youths and that the most effective way to do this is by utilizing alumni from their program or youth that were once in their situation as role models to voice the importance of employment as a means of stability.
Once we get a youth interested in the idea of independence it is important to discover what assets or passion the youth has to invest into a job or career. Youth out there have values and skills that they don’t even realize. Robbin shared a story of a young man who had six pit bulls and unknowingly had a skill in training dogs. The young man went on to intern at an animal hospital and now currently works with animals at Golden Gate Fields.
The most important step to this whole process is not just finding youth jobs, but making sure they keep the job. Support groups for working teens, and providing role models that reflect the culture and experience of the youth who are being served are other ways to integrate young people into the working world. In my own experience, I had a friend who got a job at a corporate convenience store. Everything began to look good for him, he was establishing his independence, going back to school, and had a positive attitude change toward life. Unfortunately, my friend lost his job thanks to a culmination of conflicts with management and unemployed peers that continually denounced the values of working. As I sat through this training, I thought of my friend and his current circumstances and thought how much he would have benefited from such support systems.
Employment can and will play a major role in helping to end youth homelessness. We must be innovative in our approach of demonstrating the values of work so that we can help these children to acquire their own homes and become more independent, productive members of our society.