“We need to work to live.” This is the reality we tell our foster youth on the first day of the iFoster Jobs Program.
Before they are even eligible to vote, our young people must be self-sufficient and financially stable. A job is how they can ensure that they continue to live with a roof over their head, food on the table, and can pursue their dreams once they exit care.
The iFoster Jobs Program enables transition-age foster youth (TAY) to earn competitive, permanent livable-wage jobs through a unique program model that includes workforce readiness, job skills training, reducing barriers to employment, and pipelines to sustainable private sector employment.
The iFoster Jobs Program follows a 7 step program model that was developed specifically for foster youth. We meet them where they are in workplace skills development and scaffold them in skill and resource support to the level they need to earn and maintain competitive employment with iFoster Employer partners and other private or public sector employers.
The program model is anchored on the needs of employers. Employer partners are recruited who will work with iFoster to provide a comprehensive needs assessment and commit to “first in line” interviews for iFoster graduates.
These needs assessments inform both the curriculum (what skills are to be developed) and training methodology (what case examples are presented), as well as inform the work-readiness assessment rubric that is used to evaluate how prepared a youth is for competitive work and where they might fit best based on their skill sets and personality.
We’ve partnered with over 25 national and regional employers including CVS, Starbucks, and some of the largest grocery chains in the country. These are all solid first job employers who can instill the core competencies that are fundamental for any career – work ethic, customer service, effective communication, teamwork, and critical thinking.
“It’s been just a phenomenal partnership. The people who come to work for us through iFoster are ideal candidates and employees and really have been a wonderful addition to our workforce,” said Kendra Doyle of Ralph’s and Food4Less.
Assessment, Matching, and Resources are Key
iFoster ensures that our program graduates are ready to earn and keep a job by assessing their readiness. A formal assessment day brings in senior HR managers from our employer partners to assess each graduate’s job readiness using a rubric that measures their competency level for the critical soft skills required to be successful.
Youth who aren’t quite ready are offered more training or internships to build their skills in a safe, supported environment. Youth who are ready are matched to potential job opportunities based on their fit – aligning their skills, values, personality and goals with the right job and culture where they are most likely to thrive.
We also take into consideration the “zone of employability” — the distance from home to work — to ensure that a youth can easily get to work based on their transportation and the safety of their neighborhoods. Since few of our youth own a car, public transportation schedules and routes must be factored into the optimal job match.
Finally, we ensure that youth have the resources they need to succeed – stable housing for at least 3 months, a working cell phone, bus pass, appropriate interview and work clothes, and child care for the nearly 2/3 of our youth who are parenting. If they don’t already have these resources, iFoster provides them.
iFoster also provides ongoing coaching and support checks periodically and as needed to help youth acclimate to the working world and address any issues that might hinder their ability to be the best employee they can be. iFoster is also there to celebrate work success, ensure youth are continuing to pursue post-secondary education, and provide career coaching as youth master basic work skills and begin to move into higher level positions and career pathway jobs.
In four years, the iFoster Jobs Program has helped over 500 foster youth earn competitive, permanent employment in living wage jobs. The majority of these youth are working on average 30+ hours a week and attending college or vocational schools. Their retention rate is triple the industry average and they are seeing their first promotions within about 3 months.
Our early graduates are now managers at Starbucks, pharma techs at CVS, and college graduates employed in their career of choice. The program has replicated with iFoster Jobs cohorts running simultaneously in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Sacramento. In 2020, the iFoster Jobs Program will launch in Silicon Valley and we are in discussions with several states who are interested in replicating our model.
The Administration for Children and Families is evaluating our program as a promising practice for foster youth employment. Early results reinforce what we know from our graduates – our program works.
With demand from communities and employers nationwide, we are working on plans to share our model with other child welfare agencies who are seeking to help their foster youth achieve self-sufficiency and financial stability by the time they exit care.