Engaging Youth as Partners in Research on Workforce Issues

The Issue

Engaging Youth as Partners in Research on Workforce Issues
Youth receive focus group training from CE Specialist David Campbell
A statewide team of 4-H Youth Development advisors and UC Davis researchers enlisted youth to interview their peers as part of a study on youth workforce development programs. At issue is how to connect youth to jobs in the emerging economy, especially given evidence of rising numbers of youth who are out of school and out of work.

The research sought to incorporate the perspectives of youth participants in local workforce development programs funded by the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Participants were asked about their experience in WIA-funded programs, their career and educational goals, and on where they get information related to vocational and career planning.

What Has ANR Done?

The research team brought 10 youth from around California to UC Davis to be trained in focus-group interviewing techniques. A fast-paced, interactive training lasting four hours gave participating youth a chance to learn about and practice focus-group methods. Youth practiced active listening skills and learned how to ask neutral, open-ended questions. They then took turns leading mock focus groups to use their new skills. Participating youth also gave the research team feedback on the draft protocol for the focus group.

The Payoff

Youth research partners build rapport that yields insight on workforce challenges

In the months after the training, five of the eight focus groups we conducted were co-facilitated by the youth we had trained. The addition of youth to the research team helped to build rapport with the focus group participants, leading to new insights. A total of 53 youth participated in the focus groups, including 19 Latinos, 17 African-Americans, 9 Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 8 Caucasians. Among the common themes that emerged were these:
• Youth indicated that they want to be asked by the community about what types of facilities and services they need instead of having others make those decisions for them.
• They are deeply concerned about the availability of illegal substances and about drug use among their peers.
• Youth fear gang activity in their communities in all parts of California.
• They regard teen pregnancy as unfortunate but as an inevitable consequence of there being “nothing for kids to do.”
• They express a disturbing pessimism that any of these problems can be resolved.

A UC Davis study finds that public investment in youth workforce development programs can help youth find pathways to higher education and employment (available at http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5089/33969.pdf).


Supporting Unit:

UC California Communities Program
David Campbell, California Communities Program Director
Department of Human and Community Development
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 754-4328