YouthForce NOLA Study



Career-pathways models designed to prepare high school students for success in college and careers are proliferating in school districts around the country. Each typically includes a sequence of career/technical education courses in a broad career theme such as health or computer science. Some initiatives also offer work-based learning experiences for students, a smaller, personally responsive learning environment, and extra student support.

YouthForce NOLA is a career-pathway initiative that serves the city of New Orleans, where virtually all of the high schools are charter schools. With a strong emphasis on internships, it seeks to meet the needs of local employers in high-growth, high-wage sectors for skilled workers, while giving high school students an opportunity to get the training and support they need to find employment offering family-supporting wages. To that end, YouthForce NOLA is working to increase the percentage of high school graduates who complete internships to at least 10 percent, and the percentage who earn credentials before graduation to 20 percent.

MDRC is conducting a process and implementation study of the initial phase of YouthForce NOLA, documenting various stakeholders’ experiences implementing this ambitious model.  One of the central objectives is to help the program’s designers understand the factors that either impede or promote the smooth implementation of this complex initiative. MDRC also hopes to conduct a study to estimate the impacts of the initiative on both short- and longer-term outcomes such as students’ employment and earnings and the rate at which they earn postsecondary credentials.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

YouthForce NOLA is led by Educate Now!, an intermediary working with high schools, employers, and training providers in the New Orleans area. YouthForce NOLA’s overall objectives are to meet employers’ needs for skilled workers in high-growth, high-wage sectors while improving the labor-market outcomes of young New Orleanians. Students serve as interns with area employers, giving them the opportunity to earn income while strengthening their awareness of career options and the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. To participate, high schools can apply for grants in three categories: Exploration, Planning and Piloting, and Implementation.

YouthForce intends to accomplish its objectives by implementing the following strategies:

  • Supporting schools to ensure they offer high-quality career/technical education to students that is informed by employers, postsecondary institutions, and technical-assistance providers

  • Enlisting employers and preparing them to host students in the workplace as interns

  • Ensuring access to training providers that can provide supplemental teaching in soft skills (the general habits and competencies that make for an effective employee) and hard skills (more tangible skill sets that require technical knowledge)

  • Supporting conversations with families and communities to ensure their investment in students’ success

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

This initial phase of MDRC’s study of YouthForce NOLA has four goals:

  • Help Educate Now! understand the factors that impede or promote smooth implementation, so that the organization can adjust the program as the early phase proceeds

  • In collaboration with Educate Now!, develop a theory of action for the initiative along with a framework to measure benchmarks in implementation for this early phase

  • Conduct a study of the program’s implementation in participating high schools and employers, primarily using focus groups and interviews with important stakeholder groups including steering committee members, employers, teachers, parents, technical-assistance providers, schools, and students

  • Assess the feasibility of conducting a study of YouthForce NOLA’s impacts on student outcomes