By Terry Grobe, Project Direct, JFF

Recently I served as a subject matter expert for a group of community-based organizations (CBOs) that have developed and are running training programs for young adults through TechHire grants. TechHire leaders and staff – along with their technical assistance coaches – discussed the unique assets and challenges of operating training programs out of CBOs, as opposed to a community college, workforce board, or other type of organization. 

This blog post highlights several CBO strengths that emerged from this discussion and explores some of the strategies CBOs are using to support recruitment within their TechHire programs.

Key Strengths of CBOs

During the call, attendees explored a range of CBO assets, including:

  • Strong relationships with their local communities: CBOs are often entities with long and successful track records of outreach and service to underserved communities. As a result, they are often seen as a trusted local resource and partner. Youth, young adults, and other populations with barriers to employment can sometimes find venturing onto a community college campus intimidating. A neighborhood- or community-based organization, on the other hand, can feel more approachable and serve as a good place for these individuals to start their career path.
  • Strong wraparound services: CBOs likely offer a multitude of services on-site, delivered by staff or outside partners. Because of their ability to leverage a range of partners, they can more easily and seamlessly offer wrap-around services and supports that enable young people to enter and persist in these programs.
  • Programmatic flexibility: CBOs tend to have more flexibility and fewer bureaucratic hurdles to address when program adjustments need to be made. This flexibility means they can quickly respond to student, staff or employer feedback and adjust program focus, competencies, and key activities as they go, resulting in a program that is highly aligned to local workplace needs. 

Addressing the Recruitment Challenge

Despite these strengths, CBOs also encounter challenges in launching and sustaining grant-funded workforce development initiatives. Of course, youth and young adults must be aware of and interested in participating; then they must enroll, persist, and complete the program in order to make TechHire a local success. Recruitment in particular is a challenge that the TechHire grantees discussed during the recent peer learning call.

TechHire leaders were all focused on boosting recruitment and despite some success, important questions lingered, including: where should we go to find program participants? Who are our best recruitment partners? How do we convince young people (in a strong job market) that the pay-off for participating is worth the investment? And, how do we assess appropriately to get the best candidates for our programs? Tackling these questions together in the peer learning setting offered ideas and insights for the grantees.

TechHire staff are using both traditional and non-traditional venues to get the word out about their programs. These strategies range from:

  • Working with existing, more established youth programs in the community (e.g. YouthBuild, Job Corps, Alternative Schools)
  • Leveraging social media to spark interest among potential participants.
  • Developing “downstream” recruitment strategies by building connections with local high schools to share information early and serve as a resource for youth who might not be quite ready for college.

Other ideas grantees mentioned included creative approaches such as taking part in local college and career fairs or disseminating information through college staff to youth who attempted college but didn’t finish the first semester or return for a second year.

 

Because of the time and energy needed to form and sustain partnerships, staff are also considering which specific avenues are most likely to yield the best candidates for their particular programs. Some strategies mentioned during the call were:

  • Local libraries: One program mentioned that upon recruitment to the program, individuals receive a library card that includes internet access to help with resume writing and job seeking.
  • Veterans Administration clinic: This can be an effective venue to reach and recruit veterans.
  • Local high schools: Some programs are meeting and sharing information with high school guidance counselors.

Finally, since finding a good fit for each individual is important, the discussion also focused on how CBOs can ensure they get the right candidates for their specific programs. Several staff noted that the pressure to reach target enrollment numbers can mean that they might initially take all comers, even if it results in lower persistence outcomes. However, as the program develops, staff gain clearer insight into how to ensure that youth and their chosen program represent a good fit.

 

Determining a good fit between a potential participant and a program could include exploratory experiences to determine that the path is right for them. These experiences can help program staff understand whether the individual has an appetite or affinity for the sector and give them a better window into the potential career pathways in the sector. Examples include:

  • Sponsoring a junior developer night that is open to the public and allows interested parties a chance to gain hands-on experience.
  • Holding hackathons during which youth get together and tackle a social problem with a tech-related solution.
  • Offering an algorithm night, during which participants share best practices for solving algorithms used in coding.
  • Connecting with programs in high schools or the community that already provide career exploratory experiences, such as career academy programs, college and career access or bridge programs.

It’s a lot of work to conduct successful recruitment when staff are already stretched to design, refine, and stabilize a new program. Further, we haven’t even addressed the need to connect with community college and employer partners. However, as most CBOs learn, if their programs are well-designed and opportunity awaits participants upon completion, recruitment will get easier. The best programs can ultimately sustain themselves primarily through word of mouth and eventually even generate waiting lists. The TechHire TA team looks forward to exploring further strategies to realize these goals during later small-group peer learning calls!