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Projects Seen Helping 'Disconnected' Young

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Washington--Results from a Labor Department-funded demonstration project indicate that "disconnected" youths who are not reached by other jobs programs may respond to a sensitively administered short-term effort that drops rigid eligibility requirements and stresses motivation and remediation.

The findings were released here last week at a press conference dealing with five major reports on the problems of at-risk youths. They are contained in the study, "Believing Once Again: Solutions Addressing the Plight of Challenged Youth."

The demonstration project was undertaken in two cities--Dallas and Birmingham, Ala.--by the 70001 Training and Employment Institute, a national nonprofit organization.

Its purpose, according to the report, was "to determine whether a thoughtful, creative, and innovative model might succeed" where other job-readiness training programs have not: in reaching the young people most in need of such services.

The report calls these youths the "disconnected"--those who do not participate in traditional social-service programs, who lack the motivation to succeed, and who consistently perform well below their potential.

Found Underserved

The project provided validation for the long-held contention within the field that large numbers of youths fitting the report's "profile of disconnection" are unserved by current programs. The document summarizes that profile as fitting, basically, "young, black, economically disadvantaged males who possess skills at or below the 8th-grade level."

Among the more than 600 youths enrolled at the two demonstration sites, nearly 50 percent were black males, virtually all were economically disadvantaged, and 84 percent tested below the 8th-grade level. In addition, 18 percent were youth offenders and 94 percent were high-school dropouts.

But though the enrollees represented the severest range of job barriers, the report points out, many had not been eligible for programs offered through the federal Job Training Partnership Program.

That program demands an 8th-grade competency level and sets strict family-income criteria that may preclude some applicants in need, the report says, such as teenage mothers.

Exceeded Expectations

Using techniques that included direct recruitment, speedier processing, individualized instruction, and special motivational activities, the Dallas and Birmingham projects were able to achieve in a 17-week period, the report says, results that "exceeded 70001's most optimistic expectations." Of the 588 youths enrolled, 415 were "positively terminated," meaning that they left the program with either a job placement, the attainment of job competency, a ged degree, or to join the military or pursue further schooling or job training. A total of 254 youths found jobs through the project.

The report cites particularly the demonstration's success with black male teenagers, of whom some 64 percent finished the program with a positive result--34 percent entering jobs and 29 percent advanced train4ing programs. Moreover, the study notes, a third-party evaluator of the projects found through interviews that the youths involved "viewed the program as teaching strength of character, responsibility, and perseverance, rather than merely providing job placement."

The young people praised especially the individualized and self-paced educational component, which they said made them feel, in the words of one, "responsible for my future [where] you see results for your work."

For remedial education, the projects employed the Comprehensive Competencies Program, a computer-managed and computer-assisted instructional package that is among the strategies cited by the nonprofit group Public-Private Ventures for basic-skills enhancement in youth-employment programs.

A revised edition of Public-Private Venture's guide to a broad range of such strategies was issued here to coincide with the release of the new studies.

'Shortsighted' Solutions

The model short-term program demonstrated in Dallas and Birmingham was found to be cost-effective--28 comparing favorably with the Labor Department's youth-performance standard of $4,900 and the jpta's fiscal 1986 figure of $2,425.

But the report urged caution in drawing broad conclusions from the

It urges, despite the cost implications, expansion of the program's length beyond 17 weeks to effect a more lasting impact "either on a participant's trust or long-term participation in the labor market."

And it suggests that the use of part-time try-out employment might supply the preparation needed to avoid the "high risk of failure and even higher risks of creating further alienation" that are involved in premature job placement.

Further information on the demonstration model is available from 70001 Training and Employment Institute, 600 Maryland Ave., S.W., West Wing, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20024; (202) 484-0103.

Copies of A Practitioner's Guide: Strategies, Programs, and Resources for Youth Employability Development can be purchased for $10 each from the Communications Department, Public-Private Ventures, 399 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19106; (215) 592-9099.--msr

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