Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Using National Service Programs to Help Workers Who Face Barriers to Employment
Press Release

RELEASE: Using National Service Programs to Help Workers Who Face Barriers to Employment

Washington, D.C. — In a new report released today, the Center for American Progress provides recommendations for how the national service system can be strengthened to provide greater pathways to work for opportunity youth and adults who are facing barriers to employment. For opportunity youth and marginalized adults who are out of school and not working, national service can be a tool that connects them to first jobs and on-the-job training. As the report notes, however, the current infrastructure needs to be expanded to also incorporate wraparound services such as child care, substance abuse treatment, and transportation for those taking part in national service programs.

“With a proven 4-to-1 return on investment, expanding the current national service infrastructure is good for workers and the U.S. economy,” said Shirley Sagawa, Visiting Senior Fellow at CAP and a co-author of the report. “The looming shortfall of skilled workers underscores the urgency of leveraging the transformative power of national service as a workforce development strategy to connect unemployed or out-of-school youth to careers in growing fields.”

Among the recommendations from CAP are two new initiatives that the federal government should implement in order to strengthen national service’s role as a career ladder entry point for opportunity youth. These ideas focus on 1) creating a matching grant program within the Corporation for National and Community Service to leverage funding at the state and local levels to create and catalyze new positions and 2) passing new legislation that provides financial awards to help opportunity youth pay for education or training programs while also participating in national service.

In addition to these two new strategies, CAP outlines other ways to strengthen the existing national service system as a workforce development strategy. They include increasing the accessibility of national service opportunities; ensuring that service programs are offering skills that meet the needs of growing sectors of the economy; and supporting workers who experience barriers to securing and sustaining employment.

CAP’s full slate of recommendations to use national service as a 21st century workforce strategy are to:

  • Create a Service Catalyst grant program to build capacity and incentivize states to leverage funding streams in order to expand service programs for opportunity youth and marginalized adults
  • Create Opportunity Youth Service-Learning Awards to help disadvantaged workers pay for education and training programs that provide career ladders
  • Make it easier for opportunity youth to find national service opportunities
  • Reform and streamline key AmeriCorps rules to make it easier for grantees to operate programs
  • Provide technical assistance to help state and local leaders utilize the opportunities created by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to support national service
  • Create employment incentives, which are already practiced by AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, to hire service year graduates
  • Incorporate national service into federal initiatives that target high-poverty communities
  • Incorporate mentoring into service programs

Read the full report, “Utilizing National Service as a 21st Century Workforce Strategy for Opportunity Youth,” by Tracey Ross, Shirley Sagawa, and Melissa Boteach online here.

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For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Liz Bartolomeo at or 202.481.8151.