Employment

“The reward of working with youth in Project LIFE is seeing them mold themselves into the adults they will become.”

— GEORGE MACK
Project LIFE Staff

Helping young people find employment after foster care is key to helping them succeed. A first job is a major milestone in a young person’s life, and an important step in achieving stability and independence. Without guidance from someone like you, youth might not know where to look.

Employment

How important is employment for youth aging out of care?

Obviously, a job allows youth in foster care to pay for housing, food, medical care and other necessities of life. Just as important, work can help youth in foster care to develop confidence and a sense of responsibility, both of which help them succeed and become productive members of their communities.

How do I help youth aging out of foster care get a job?

Young people often don’t see their own interests as marketable skills and they may not know what skills are needed to get a job. Helping them better understand their skills, abilities, and interests and how these align with possible career paths is the first step in helping them want and find employment. Like everyone else, young people will be happier and likely to stay at a job that satisfies them and helps them reach their personal goals. Talk to them about what they want in a job, help them set priorities and then discuss what they need to do in order to achieve their goals.

Are there tools I can use?

Because young people have different learning styles, games that involve both pictures and discussion can often help them focus on important concepts.

The card game tool

Understanding priorities is an important first step in helping youth decide what kind of job they want, whether they can go to work immediately after high school or need to continue school. The Card Game Tool helps youth in foster care figure out what is most important to them and helps them decide what they want to do when they age out of foster care. Another useful tool to guide a conversation about getting a job is the Employment Skills Assessment worksheet, which helps youth understand the job-hunting skills they need to focus on in order to land a job.

Casey skills worksheet

Employers like to hire people who take charge of their careers. Ask youth to describe qualities they have, other than work experience, that might be important to a potential employer. Can they give you examples of how they have worked as part of a team? How they have resolved conflicts? Solved problems? Brought about positive change? Are they good at following directions? You can use the Casey Skills Worksheet for exercises that bring to life how different qualities are expressed in the workplace.

Social Media Presence

Many youth in foster care rely on Facebook and other social media to keep in touch with their friends. Social media are public venues, not “just between friends.” They may not think how the pictures and activities they post may look to future employers. But we need to make it very clear that employers will be looking at their social media to get information about their values, character and reliability.

Interview skills and follow up: preparing for an interview

Young people often fail to realize how their appearance and demeanor affect a potential employer’s impression of them and willingness to hire them. Talk to youth about making a good impression at an interview:

  • Dressing well. They may not have to dress up to do the work, but they do need to dress their best when going for an interview.
  • Filling out paperwork carefully so it can be read.
  • Turning off cellphones and other devices to avoid interruptions.
  • Showing that they really want the job. Being interested, sitting up straight, and asking questions.
  • Showing enthusiasm! How can youth tell employers why they like this kind of work and why they can do it?
  • Saying “Thank you!” and sending the interviewer a thank-you email afterwards — spelled correctly.

Career choice and requirements

When choosing a career, youth in foster care should consider the opportunities the occupation provides. Using the Careers and Occupations Guide, workers can assist youth in learning about the requirements of specific careers, which helps youth determine what other information they need and what  financial compensation they can expect.

None of the tools or other factors discussed should be construed as defining or limiting the youth’s career options. These are guides to consider. It may be that a youth is so interested in a particular career that he or she can overcome what may seem like obstacles to success.

Getting a foot in the door

Sometimes volunteering or an internship is the best way to get youth where they want to go. Volunteering gives them the chance to show their skills and learn more about different jobs. By volunteering, a youth in foster care can also gain confidence, meet people who are concerned about others and feel useful. An internship provides the similar benefits in a professional, more formal workplace. Apprenticeships are another avenue to explore. They offer on-the-job training in highly needed skills and can lead to very good careers.

Internships

An internship is a temporary job students take to gain knowledge and skills in a particular field. Internships are a way to try out a youth’s interests and discover whether a job suits them. Through hard work and proving their abilities day to day, youth may be able to turn an internship into a job offer.

Apprenticeships

The Virginia Registered Apprenticeship is a great opportunity to receive training and experience in many competitive jobs. It offers on-the-job training and theoretical classroom instruction. Related instruction may be provided through a local community college, a vocational or technical center, electronically or at the place of employment. A registered apprentice completes a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training and a minimum of 144 hours of related classroom instruction for each year of the apprenticeship.

Recap

Youth should know that developing employment skills is an ongoing process. It starts before they leave foster care and continues even after they land their first job.