The success of a YouthBuild program is evident when the program achieves strong program outcomes for participants by helping them to attain educational and vocational credentials, as well as an education and/or employment placement that is a on a career pathway towards a sustaining wage and upward mobility.
The ability to achieve such outcomes is linked to the program's ability to provide a high-quality program with rigorous education and training, effective supportive services, and innovative approaches to prepare youth participants for success in today's workplace.
YouthBuild programs require strong community, employer, and post-secondary education partnerships in order to ensure that participants are engaged and connected to the right placements and supports for post-program success. They also require strong partnerships with the youth participants themselves, so the goals of the program and the youth are aligned and a strong environment of trust is created.
The road to successful outcomes begins with a successful and strategic recruitment process that leverages strong program practices, partnerships, and community support. Such a recruitment strategy will ensure that YouthBuild grantee partners and prospective participants see YouthBuild as the premier program in their community that helps young people successfully connect to education and career pathways.
Recruitment is a full-time cycle and planning begins far before actual recruitment begins. Successful recruitment is a process and recruitment for the next cohort really needs to start upon successful completion of the current Mental Toughness and orientation period. In this newsletter, we will explore how the process of recruitment leverages the YouthBuild programmatic structure, schedule, and the relationships that are built, nurtured, and maintained throughout the program cycle.
The Power of Partnerships
Before diving into specific recruitment and outreach strategies, it is important for YouthBuild programs to think about existing partners and community assets. Who are they? What do they believe is the YouthBuild value-add to the partnership or community? Additionally, how can YouthBuild programs best engage the partner throughout the program cycle so the partnership remains strong, especially when the time comes to begin on-the-ground recruitment, interview, and selection processes?
Community partners include other youth-serving organizations, local American Job Centers, local courts, police officers, local businesses (i.e. small corner stores and other community businesses), and local community leaders. Program strategies may include the following:
- Ask partners to post a flyer, repost a social media message, or refer young people directly to your program.
- During Mental Toughness and Orientation, identify ways your partners can be invited to engage in programmatic activities (i.e. career exploration, mentoring, life skills building activities, etc.).
- During active programming, you can identify a variety of opportunities to engage community partners:
- Service-learning projects with youth participants;
- Monthly or quarterly community meetings that partners can attend to meet the YouthBuild program staff and youth participants to see firsthand how their investment in the YouthBuild program as partners is helping youth and the community;
- Opportunities for work experience, such as on-the-job training, job shadowing, or mentoring; and
- Referral services to community partners providing such support.
Education and Employment Placement Partners
For a YouthBuild program, an essential outcome is to place youth participants into employment and/or post-secondary education and training opportunities. Education and employment placement partners may not necessarily provide a steady stream of young people who might enroll in the program, but they are key partners that the program should engage throughout the year. It’s important for education and employment partners to understand the YouthBuild program philosophy, approach, and expected outcomes. With this understanding, partners are better equipped to receive, engage, and support youth participants once they transition into the placement and follow-up period. Additionally, by engaging education and employment partners, the YouthBuild program creates a community of potential advisors who can provide valuable feedback that can strengthen education and career readiness programming and the preparation of participants for future career pathways. This partnership engagement can result in:
- Improved services and training for youth participants;
- Stronger placement connections for the participants’ education and career goals; and
- Successful and thriving young people who exit the program with positive placements who are thriving on a path towards education and career success.
This leads to the strengthening of one of the most important partnerships in the recruitment process, which is the YouthBuild program’s relationship with the participants transitioning from the program and into their education and/or career placements.
Participants as Partners
The strongest advocates and source of promotion for the YouthBuild program are the young people who have completed the program successfully and are thriving in their lives beyond YouthBuild. A strong alumni network is a key recruitment ingredient, both because it provides encouragement for former participants to stay engaged and to help promote the program but also, because it supports ongoing positive outcomes as it allows continued contact with exited participants, which assists in gaining documentation for positive outcomes and learning early where exited participants may be struggling with placements or other issues that can impact their success. This ongoing contact with participants ensures the program can provide ongoing supportive services and placement assistance.
Successful YouthBuild participants will be more likely to tell all of their friends about the amazing experience they just had and how good they feel about the next step in their lives, as well as the continuing support they receive from the program. They will share this news with family members, with the people they engage with in the community and with their peers, professors, and employers. In order to successfully recruit young people, it is crucial that the young people who are participating in the program and transitioning out of the program are seen as partners in recruitment as they are the living representation of your program model and outcomes.
So now that we've discussed some of the key stakeholders in a successful recruitment strategy, what are some of the concrete steps that should be taken in order to start recruiting young people into the program?
First, think about the best ways to engage each stakeholder in the process of bringing young people into the application process. Many young people have a saying, "If I didn't see it on social media, it didn't happen." Similarly local businesses, community partners, and education and employment partners will all likely have a social media presence on most or all of the major platforms. Therefore, it is vital that during the recruitment process, the YouthBuild program creates relevant and appropriate messaging that can be shared with the right partner and via the right platform to best engage partners and the young people. Additionally, make sure the website has current program and contact information, as well as pictures and success stories of youth participants.
According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who use social media use Instagram, 45% use Twitter, and 94% use YouTube. Equipped with this data, programs should be thinking about how to create compelling videos and content that a young person can view on their mobile device and then easily share across the social media platforms they use.
As an example, take a look at the two YouTube videos linked below to see how two YouthBuild programs are creating engaging video content that provides information that is important to young people. For example, the YouthBuild MATC program’s video includes the types of jobs the YouthBuild program will equip participants to access, what salaries look like in those fields, and what type of future they can have after enrolling in and successfully completing the YouthBuild program.
In considering how to use social media to connect with recruitment partners, these organizations are more likely to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to highlight places of employment, local organizations, or businesses. Therefore, your recruitment strategy for partners should include creating brief and captivating messaging that your community, education, employment, and business partners can share via a Tweet, Facebook post or as the message underneath a picture of your recruitment flyer on Instagram.
YouthBuild programs can also learn more about how to employ a successful social media strategy for recruitment by downloading YouthBuild Recruitment and Social Media Tips. This resource provides valuable tips and tools for creating messaging and content that is relevant to each of the program’s stakeholders and partners and appropriate for various platforms.
In addition to recruiting via social media platforms, in-person contact is critical. Consider how many times the program has invited its partners to the program to meet young people and understand why it's important that they continue to refer young people to the program. Additionally, set up days and times for program recruitment staff and a few young leaders from the program to visit partner sites and speak to the people who are engaging with young people the most and perhaps even with a group of young people who might be interested in enrolling in the YouthBuild program. This type of person-to-person contact will give all parties an understanding of the type of engagement and support they can expect if they enroll in the program and the types of relationships that can be built to support their long-term education and career success.
Download and view a sample outreach and recruitment tracker for in-person recruitment developed by Northwest Michigan Council of Governments (NWMCOG) Cadillac YouthBuild program here:
Partnerships and activities are important, and it is integral to have a timeline and a strategy for who will be handling the program’s recruitment efforts, who the staff will be engaging outside of the organization, the methods of engagement, whether in-person or virtual, and of course, clear recruitment goals and benchmarks for success. This Recruitment Marketing Tool and Activity Calendar will help to organize a YouthBuild program’s recruitment plan and efforts.