The majority of youth and young adults in the United States who are out of work are youth of color. To better reach and support all participants, many workforce development programs are increasingly embedding a racial and ethnic equity and inclusion (REEI) approach into job skills training initiatives.

The literature is limited on whether training staff to explicitly address interpersonal racism, implicit bias, and structural racism1 can lead to better outcomes for young people of color. This literature does not suggest that trainings may have a negative effect, but rather that additional, ongoing support is needed to see positive changes. While many programs are committing to increasing their staff members’ knowledge and comfort with navigating challenging conversations through training opportunities or more intensive, multi-year strategies, it is becoming clear that training must be accompanied by ongoing supports and policy changes (e.g., hiring and supervision policies that ensure programs are inclusive and equitable).

In the broader Generation Work initiative, REEI has been a key area of focus and complements the initiative’s emphasis on positive youth development (PYD)—a strengths-based approach that elevates the voices and builds the skills and social capital of young people—and employer engagement. While programs that integrate PYD may effectively create welcoming spaces for young people of color, an intentional focus on embedding REEI strategies is also necessary. This allows programs to directly address interpersonal and structural racism and to ensure that their PYD approach is supported by the policies and systems in place within the organization.

This brief explores how one local partnership in the Generation Work initiative, led by the Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana (GCSI) and specifically its Excel Center® adult high schools—rolled out REEI training for its staff throughout the organization as part of its recognition that PYD approaches would have limited reach without more explicit REEI work. To inform this brief, Child Trends researchers conducted 10 interviews during an October 2019 site visit with staff from both GCSI, which runs The Excel Centers, and EmployIndy, which is the local Workforce Development Board.

Since the interviews, the national conversation about race and racism in the United States has changed . At Goodwill, this change in public perception has spurred more motivation for change within the organization. Nationally, the progress made has been driven primarily by a reawakened racial justice movement inspired by a series of widely shared recordings of racist incidents against Black people. Increasing levels of support for the Black Lives Matter movement make clear that programs now seeking to prioritize racial justice work may find useful lessons from Goodwill’s experience in Indianapolis and from the step-by-step process they undertook over many months.


Footnotes

1 For this report, we use a definition of structural racism from the Aspen Institute. They write: “We use the term structural racism to define the many factors that contribute to and facilitate the maintenance of racial inequities in the United States today. A structural racism analytical framework identifies aspects of our history and culture that have allowed the privileges associated with “whiteness” and the disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. It points out the ways in which public policies and institutional practices contribute to inequitable racial outcomes. It lays out assumptions and stereotypes that are embedded in our culture that, in effect, legitimize racial disparities, and it illuminates the ways in which progress toward racial equity is undermined.” See here: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/structural-racism-youth-development-issues-challenges-implications/