Five years ago, Next, our region’s only youth career and employment center, opened its doors to provide holistic career, education, training and support services for young adults ages 16 to 24.
Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) founded Next to meet the needs of a growing population of young adults who were not in school or working. According to the 2022 Opportunity Youth Report, an estimated 34,000 young adults are not working or in school in the Southwest Washington-Portland metropolitan area. Of those, approximately 8,220 reside in Clark County and 1,927 are in Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Pacific counties.
Next seeks to engage these young adults and connect them to employment and education programs. The mission of Next is to integrate comprehensive education and career services to empower young adults in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties to become self-sufficient and achieve sustainable employment. Next envisions a community where economic potential and growth exists for every young adult.
“The vision for Next is to be able to help any young adult that walks through our door in some way; job readiness, support services, or even a bite to eat. Our goal is to connect with the community to be able to provide resources for young adults for whatever they may need,” said Haley Hansen, Director of Next.
Next offers career, education and support services to prepare young adults to take their next step. Young adults that come to Next start with one-on-one mentorship with Career Coaches to create an individualized plan to help them attain their career goals.
Next provides internships and apprenticeships to get youth work experience and on-the-job training while they launch into their careers. Internship opportunities enable young adults to gain work experience and develop transferable skills that can be used in future jobs. Since 2018, 187 young adults have participated in work experiences through Next.
Young adults can take advantage of workshops at Next, which cover resume building, mock interviews, financial literacy and other topics to help youth build critical skills. Free online training is available to supplement learning and skill attainment through LinkedIn Learning. No-cost education and job training are accessible through Next’s partnership with Job Corps.
“I didn’t know how to write a proper resume, how to fill out applications, what finances meant (they have other wonderful programs that go along with a work experience, like getting your Financial Literacy Certificate), and how important it was to professionally represent yourself when needed,” said Next participant Lauren Haakinson, who completed a work experience with Storyboard Delights and has since secured full-time employment with a business in Cowlitz County.
Career Coaches at Next mentor youth to discover what skills and education are required for their desired field. Next offers tutoring on several subjects, including General Education Development (GED) exam prep and English as a Second Language (ESL). Staff at Next administer GED testing for youth. Since opening, 223 young adults have earned credentials through Next and 74 have obtained their GED.
“I was also getting my G.E.D. at the time and they even discussed with me what I wanted my future to look like. Do I want to go to college? What are my interests? Where do I want to go?” – Lauren Haakinson, Next participant
While working towards career and educational goals, young adults are encouraged to take advantage of support services including childcare assistance, clothing or tools for a job and gas or transportation assistance to alleviate burden and decrease barriers. Nearly 69% of Next participants take advantage of support services. Next is a welcoming, trauma-informed space where young adults can relax, get something to eat and even take a shower.
Once young adults have completed their program at Next, they are ready to enter education programs or launch their careers. Thirty-nine percent of youth served through Next enter unsubsidized employment. Other paths participants take include secondary or alternative school, post-secondary education, part-time employment, military service and apprenticeship.
Mya worked to obtain her GED through a PAX Learning Center, a partner organization located at Next. After completing her GED, Mya was offered an internship with PAX. Through her internship, she tutored others on GED and ESL.
Mya excelled in her role and was promoted to Tutoring Supervisor. In this role, she demonstrates her ability to adapt and lead. Her peers have complimented her leadership skills and turn to her for guidance. She demonstrates her knack for developing organizational and filing structures and finding creative solutions for business-related problems.
Since 2018, Next has served more than 900 young adults. The most used services at Next include support services, financial literacy, information on the labor market, career and vocational counseling and work experiences.
The young adults served through Next come from diverse backgrounds. Nearly 60% (574 participants) of youth who access Next services have not earned a high school diploma while almost 33% (316 participants) have a high school diploma or GED. The remainder of participants completed some college, post-secondary degrees and/or certifications beyond high school.
Of youth served by Next, 47.8% (459 participants) identified as male and 44.7% (430) identified as female, the remainder of participants declined to identify. Of participants, 61.9% (595) self-identified as white, 5.9% (57) as two or more races, 5.0% (48) as Asian, 4.8% (46) as Black, 2.9% (28) as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander and 12.7% (122 participants) declined to identify.
Providers, partners and volunteers from across Southwest Washington build the community and supply expertise needed to engage and serve diverse young adults at Next.
In the Next center, a consortium of organizations provides services including Career Path Services, Career TEAM, Partners in Careers, PAX Learning Center, Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, The Underdog Mentality and Greater Vancouver Chamber. Each organization brings different specialties to the table, from career and education services to business engagement to workshops and mentorship.
“The consortium at Next has a strong vision for partnership and how our community can come together to leverage all our strengths to provide the best services to youth. The team that comprises the consortium is strong, and they have a lot of energy and passion in serving,” said Lyn Love, Program Manager at WSW. Love oversees WSW’s investment in Next.
Next staff partners with organizations specializing in career, housing, education, mental health and other services. Current partners at Next are Clark College, Clark County Juvenile Court, Columbia River Mental Health, Council for the Homeless, Department of Youth and Family Services, Job Corps, Lutheran Community Services NW, Vancouver Housing Authority and Washington State University Vancouver.
The Next Champions Council (NCC) is the advisory board for Next, providing guidance and feedback on the center’s programming and vision for growth. Volunteers for the NCC come from agencies and organizations that serve youth including Clark County Juvenile Justice Center, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Council for the Homeless, Janus Youth, Columbia River Mental Health Services, Goodwill Cowlitz, Latino Leadership NW, PAX Learning, TRiO Talent Search, Vancouver Housing Authority, Fourth Plain Forward, Queer Youth Resource Center, The Underdog Mentality, YWCA Clark County, Wahkiakum County Health and Human Services and WSW.
Together, the organizations and individuals that work, partner and volunteer with Next shape the vision for Next to outreach and engage with young adults and successfully guide them into work and education pathways.
In 2023, Next released a new strategic plan to guide the organization over the next three years. Next aims to reach and engage youth to connect them with accessible, individualized services to empower them with the skills and competencies to succeed in education and career pathways. The plan also outlines goals to engage with business to make youth exiting Next a first choice for hiring and invest in Next staff to ensure retention and quality services.
2023 – 2026 Next Strategic Plan Goals
- Next reaches young adults to offer holistic services to deliver an accessible, individualized, and impactful participant experience.
- Make Next employers’ first choice for hiring into a quality job.
- Next’s youth have the skills, competencies, and support they need to be successful in securing access into post-secondary and quality jobs pathways.
- Next leaders thoughtfully invest in staff and aim to keep employee retention at 75% minimum.
“Since its inception, Next has experienced an impressive evolution. Over the years, we’ve fine-tuned our approach by expanding services and partnerships to better address the unique challenges faced by out of school youth,” Love said.
As Next advances, its vision remains rooted in creating a community where economic potential and growth exists for every young adult.
“Our team is eager to help, and we love what we do. Many people don’t know all the services we offer like mental health resources, housing, transportation, and more, so stop by and ask how we can help you,” said Hansen.
Are you a business professional looking to support and recruit young adults in Southwest Washington?
Through Next, businesses can host an intern, participate in hiring events, teach a workshop, mentor young adults, join an employer Q&A panel to share expertise and opportunities with youth, or help with job shadow activities.
Are you a young adult ready to find out what’s next? Connect with Next to get started!
In Clark County, contact Next at email@example.com or 360.207.2628 or in person at 120 NE 136th Avenue, Suite 130, Vancouver, WA 98684. Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties, contact Next at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.890.7769 or in person at Goodwill, 1030 15th Ave., Suite 300, Longview, WA 98632. Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wahkiakum County youth can visit Next staff every other Monday at Wahkiakum County Health and Human Services, 42 Elochoman Valley Rd, Cathlamet, WA, 98612.
Next staff are available at several partner locations across Clark and Cowlitz counties. Contact Next staff to learn about locations closest to you.