Approximately 10,000 young adults ages 16 to 24 are not in school and not working in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties in Southwest Washington.
Often these young people are experiencing challenges like homelessness, foster care or involvement in the criminal justice system. Removing these barriers and empowering these young adults to realize their full potential will transform their lives and our communities. It is in recognition of their potential that these young people are referred to in terms of their promise: “Opportunity Youth.”
To help these young adults achieve their potential, Clark County’s first and only youth education and workforce training center, Next, was opened in September 2018 by Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW). More than 1,400 Opportunity Youth have walked through the doors of Next since its opening. Eighty-five percent of them enroll in education and/or career pathway programs.
At Next, WSW has convened multiple partners to provide services in one location, improving access to resources, decreasing inefficiencies and redundancies of several organizations providing similar services, and increasing the possibility of public-private partnerships to supplement shrinking federal workforce investment dollars.
Successfully engaging Opportunity Youth requires community collaboration like that of Next that effectively removes barriers, connects the many systems that touch their lives, and builds and deepens education and employment pathways. The commitment is simple—each young adult who walks into Next will get what they need to walk up to opportunity’s door and kick it wide open.
But don’t take our word for it, read a few of the stories of the 1,400 Opportunity Youth who have walked through the doors of Next since opening in September of 2019. And you will see for yourself that they aspire to positively impact their community on a daily basis and are working tirelessly to improve their communities.
John Caleb Dela Cruz, Age 21. John heard about Next through family members who had gone to WorkSource to find resources. He attends tutoring classes and is working towards earning his high school equivalency.
At Next, John earned certifications in forklift, OSHA and flagging. After completing the workforce preparation class, he interned at T&L Communications.
He enjoys talking to the Next staff and feels he is able to access many resources in one place. He says Next is the place to go if you are looking for support in getting to where you want to go, whether that is education, job training or internships.
John plans to become an electrician and was able to make connections at T&L Communications during his internship. He said Next helped him decide on this career pathway and getting his foot in the door.
Onesimo Carbajal, Age 18. Onesimo heard about Next through Battle Ground High School and is working on completing his high school equivalency.
He likes the no-drama environment and helpful staff and says he feels comfortable at Next. Onesimo would tell a friend Next is a great place to complete your education or get a job.
He recently turned 18 and is planning to take forklift training and get his driver’s license.
Oneismo wants to become a CNA or an EMT and will be working with his Talent Development Specialist to decide what field he will pursue. He said Next has helped him with deciding what he wants to do.
Research and practice have identified effective strategies for re-engaging Opportunity Youth into employment, training and education, and connecting them to social supports. Key components at Next include:
- Strong Partnerships: Next partners collaborate across higher education, nonprofit and for-profit entities by aligning and maximizing investments and policies.
- Youth Voice: Next engages youth as full partners in initiatives and program development via the Next Gen Council—a leadership committee comprised of Next youth.
- Employer Buy-In: Next partners with local high-growth and in-demand companies to offer multiple earn-and-learn opportunities for youth.
- Continuous Improvement: Next allows for leaders from previously disparate programs to improve and develop their niche of services through data and consistent feedback from Next youth.
Learn more about Next at www.nextsuccess.org.