“Through Disconnected Eyes” Training Shifts Narrative in Youth Workforce Development

Larry Robbin has worked to close the opportunity gap since he was a high schooler, when he first volunteered with a workforce development program at Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project, serving juveniles and adult gang members coming out of the justice system.

He has since spent over 45 years as a professional in workforce development, helping organizations find new ways to look at the way they work with youth, gaining insights he will share in the upcoming training, “Through Disconnected Eyes.”

To design his latest training, which will be offered in October in Sacramento, Los Angeles and the Fresno area, Robbin conducted a listening tour, soliciting feedback from 500 young people about the most effective ways to empower frontline staff and supervisors to help disconnected youth get jobs or onto career pathways.

Larry Robbin

Larry Robbin

For the purposes of this session, “disconnected youth” are young people both out of school and without jobs. However, Robbin views the “disconnected eyes” as those of adult staff who are not delivering workforce development programs based on an adult-driven curriculum instead of engaging with target audience to learn what they would find valuable.

“I’m trying to help [program staff] figure out, ‘how do we learn from youth that we serve, to serve them better?’” Robbin said in an interview with The Imprint.

According to Robbin, there are three models that most youth-oriented programs operate within: a “for-youth” model, wherein youth fill the typical student role and adults fill the role of teachers and deliver programs crafted exclusively by adults; a “with-youth” model, where programs include feedback of their younger target audience, “but there’s no real formal structural ways of the program for gathering the perspectives of youth and helping drive the program,” Robbin said; and the partnership model, where there is fluidity between the student and teacher roles.

“With that [partnership] model, it’s truly transformative, because there’s ownership of the program by the youth,” he said. “This is the model that he believes drives recruitment the best, because participants take ownership and spread the word about a program that gives them the “wow” factor.

“If you were hitting ‘wow’ often enough, youth would recruit other youth to your program. You wouldn’t have a recruitment problem,” Robbin said. “You’d have a waiting list problem.”

Robbin’s upcoming training, which is co-sponsored by the California Workforce Association, aims to empower professionals to deliver that wow factor in their programs. The agenda includes opportunities to learn about youth culture, a program model based on young people’s assessment of their own wants, and marketing.

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