The Youth Career Café - Empowering Youth to Succeed in the Real World

Youth Career Cafés are places in the Virginia cities of Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, and Williamsburg, and the counties of Gloucester, James City, and York where youth learn to navigate the business world and see how their education is relevant to the real world. The Cafés’ purpose is to provide resources to help young people develop workplace readiness skills, make career goals, and identify post-secondary options that match those career goals. Sponsored by the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development in partnership with school divisions and employers, the original Café opened in the spring of 2006 in a mall in Hampton, VA; an additional Café has since opened in an another mall in Newport News, VA. This community-driven system is designed to create an efficient youth workplace readiness center that provides education and career preparation, opportunities that equip the participants with appropriate employability, and technical skills that will help them positively contribute to the globally competitive workforce of southeastern Virginia.

The target population served at the Youth Career Cafés is low-income youth ages 14 to 21, although the program serves all youth in need of services. Café services include providing one-on-one career services; school group visits; workplace readiness training; secondary or post-secondary career-related program resources; work-based learning activities including internships, job shadowing, part- and full-time employment, and service learning; cluster workshops with industry, business, governmental, and non-profit professionals; tutoring services; and career interest assessments. By offering a work-based learning environment, youth are able to internalize and incorporate management expectations, practice teamwork and problem solving, and gain knowledge in leadership and academic skills. The two full service Cafés served a total of 4,484 participants over the past program year (July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010).

One of the primary elements of the Café program is the use of youth as partners through the establishment of a Youth Advisory Board for each Café. The program is also made available to the cities’ juvenile services departments to offer life skill activities as well as workplace readiness activities. Community-based organizations are encouraged to use the Cafés to supplement their program activities as well. In an effort to expand the services, a satellite program was developed in partnership with the public library system with the goal of reaching a segment of the youth population that may not venture outside of their community.

The Youth Career Cafés are funded in part with federal funding from the Department of Labor (DOL) under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), as well as having strong support from the business community.

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