Launched in Fall 2018 as an initiative of Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), Next is a youth career and employment center, serving young adults (16 – 24 years old) across Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. Next takes an integrated approach to training, career exploration and continuing education.
“Next is an ambitious alliance of service providers, agencies and nonprofits who have voluntarily co-located in one space to pool resources and provide uniquely tailored career-building experiences to youth,” said Benton Waterous, Senior Program Manager at WSW. “Prior to the opening of Next, a variety of quality resources for youth existed around Clark County, but they tended to be disconnected and not available in one spot.” In the past, young adults had to travel to different service providers across the region and navigate enrollment and eligibility criteria. With Next, they can reach all these services in several convenient locations.
The Next center offers services to “Opportunity Youth,” young adults who are not currently engaged in work or school. In Southwest Washington, there are approximately 10,000 Opportunity Youth, according to a 2018 report by WSW and its Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative (CWWC) partners. The center supports young adults as they pursue work and educational pathways, acquiring training and opportunities to grow sustainable careers.
At Next, Talent Development Specialists work one-on-one with young adults to prepare them for employment. Programs include a 40-hour work readiness course, informational and mock interviews, internship placement, connection to industry-specific trainings and apprenticeships. Next partners with WSW’s business team to connect qualified candidates with employers. Next offers an array of online classes, trainings and workshops.
Next also provides educational resources to young adults. They can explore higher education options and be connected through partnerships with local colleges and universities. Youth can connect to resources to complete their GED or High School Equivalency, and as of late 2020, they have the option to take their GED test on site. The testing site at Next is a familiar space that creates a safe environment for youth to focus on passing their exams. Co-located resources make it easy for youth to get connected to post-secondary or employment opportunities while they get their credential.
“Next provides a trauma-informed community space where youth can safely interact with each other, get a snack in the kitchen or take a shower. Next also can make referrals to a wide array of off-site partners for additional supports for mental health, housing and other needs.”
– Benton Waterous
Throughout the pandemic, Next continues to serve young adults in Southwest Washington. In 2020, Next migrated services online. The past year has highlighted the importance of reliable and equitable access to technology. To help young adults gain access to trainings, education and jobs, Next has partnered with Free Geek, Comcast, and Edge Networks to supply technology for the center, such as Chromebooks for young adults to check-out and Wi-Fi hotspots. Next continues to offer online services alongside in-person services to meet regional needs.
Since its conception three years ago, Next has continued to evolve and strengthen its connections within the community. Next strives to match opportunities and resources with young adults by establishing and fortifying connections to local nonprofits and community-based organizations. Next partners with Clark College for connections to post-secondary education and GED completion, The Underdog Mentality supplies leadership training and ESD112 offers support for the SummerWorks summer internship program.
In Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, WSW and Next partner with Goodwill of the Olympic and Rainier Region. This partnership provides Next’s services at the Goodwill Work Opportunity Center in Longview, WA.
“These services at Goodwill are helping our young adults not fall through the cracks and get additional education and skills that can help them gain employment while at the same time giving local businesses a resource to fill jobs. It’s a great program that fills the social needs of individuals and the economic needs of local businesses,” said Bill Marcum, CEO of the Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce.
By working with Goodwill, WSW and Next reach a larger audience of youth and leverage Goodwill’s strong community connections to provide services integral for young adults’ career and educational development.
Despite challenges due to COVID-19, Next was able to serve approximately 800 youth across Southwest Washington between 2018 and 2020. Since opening, 693 youth have taken steps on their career pathways. Next helped 146 youth attain GEDs, 308 gain employment, 281 earn credentials and 19 enter post-secondary education.
Next has taken steps to improve outreach and accessibility for historically underrepresented populations. Next commissioned a report to examine outcomes for youth with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ youth and youth of color. The report examined current outcomes of the system and made recommendations for improving the equity of outcomes for diverse youth. Next continues to implement strategies and coordinate with organizations which advocate for historically under-served communities with the goal to further Next’s development as a place which embraces the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
For young adults in Southwest Washington looking to be supported by Next, please reach out at admin@nextsuccess or 360.207.2686.