Eric was a 17-year old kid with adult problems. He was about to be a father for the first time, wasn’t working, didn’t have a high school diploma, and had no idea how to afford the child support payments that would soon be rolling in. This was also Eric’s first time looking for work. My job at that time was to get Eric employed – any job– and to do so quick, fast, and in a hurry. I found Eric a part-time job at a local small business, but it didn’t last long. Finding a patient employer who was willing to take a leap of faith on a young person with Eric’s profile was a defeating activity. I knew deep down that Eric needed a more intensive intervention than what I could provide. Even worse, the confusion, fear, and regret in Eric’s eyes was a telltale sign that he knew too.

Today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a new report aimed squarely at a common challenge to growing youth job training: employers first need to see work-based learning as a way to help their business. “Work-based Learning for Youth at Risk: Getting Employers on Board,” was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and lays out several policy tools for motivating employers to train more young people who are disconnected – and at risk of detachment – from school and work.

Engineer And Apprentice Planning CNC Machinery Project

More than 5.5 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working. Who are these young people?  They’re commonly referred to as opportunity youth, a term that, according to Patrick Sims, “speaks to the potential value they could add to their communities if they were reconnected to education and employment opportunities.” Opportunity youth are more likely to receive public assistance, have a disability, lack health insurance, and be a parent. They’re typically young men. And, while African Americans and Hispanics are more susceptible to becoming an opportunity youth than Whites and Asian Americans, data shows that nationally that White opportunity youth outnumber any other race and ethnicity.

The OECD reports that work-based learning – a structured training method of completing job tasks to build occupational and job skills – is an effective way for opportunity youth to gain skills that employers will value. Work-based learning is a motivational experience that engages the minds and hands of a learner in a way that classroom time alone doesn’t. It’s also proven to have positive benefits to society such as reduced incarceration and mortality rates. Stuck without a clear way to advance economically, opportunity youth are vulnerable to prolonged periods of unemployment. They need more occasions to become self-sufficient and pathways to good jobs, such as work-based learning, that don’t necessarily have to pass through traditional education systems.

A challenge to work-based learning – perhaps the biggest obstacle – is finding willing companies to train young people on the job.  Employers that will host work-based learning programs like, apprenticeship and internships, are hard to come by.

Recommended by Grads of Life