Engaging Youth in Career Programming During Out-of-School Time
While there is considerable interest in finding ways for OST programs to support youths’ career development, there is little research on career programming that addresses the unique needs and circumstances of OST programs. This study was designed to answer three questions:
- What kinds of activities and opportunities are OST programs providing to support youths’ career development?
- Which career-related programs and activities do youth find most engaging?
- What are the main barriers to successful career programming in OST? And what creative solutions have experienced programs used to overcome those barriers?
To answer these questions, a detailed study of 26 out-of-school time programs in Pennsylvania was conducted. Because the goal was to learn from experienced providers and share those lessons, leaders in the field were asked to help identify programs that offer career-related activities and have a strong reputation for offering quality programming. All of the programs served primarily low-income or high-risk students in middle or high school. Because understanding the diversity of programming being offered was of interest, programs with different content, in different kinds of communities (urban/rural), funded through different sources (public/private), and structured differently (school-year/summer, short duration/long) were intentionally included.
At each program, detailed information was collected to answer study questions. During hour-long interviews, program directors shared program goals, activities, challenges and creative solutions. Through afternoon or day-long site visits, trained observers collected data on activity content, instructional strategies, relationships between staff and youth, youth engagement, and attendance. Youth at each program completed 15-minute surveys about their engagement in the program and their participation in various activities. (More detail about the study methodology is available in the Appendix).
It is important to note that this study was not designed to assess program effectiveness. While the sample includes some promising programs, these programs have not been evaluated for whether they have positive impacts on youth outcomes. Instead, the results of this study focus on the characteristics of programs that engage youth. Recruiting, retaining and engaging youth is a well-known challenge and is a necessary step toward building effective programs.
This guide uses findings from the study to answer the questions posed above. To make the findings useful to a wide audience, findings are connected to questions about program design. To share the many good ideas that were demonstrated, descriptions of promising programs are included and real programs’ strategies for overcoming barriers are highlighted. To provide the most useful information possible, these findings are supplemented with research from the fields of education, adolescent development, workforce development and youth programs. In many places, challenging questions that remain unanswered are highlighted. PSAYDN and its research partners hope this guide will be useful to people who want to design or improve career-related programming for youth during out- of-school time.