AmeriCorps is a national service program that pairs roughly 250,000 members across the country with local organizations to help communities tackle their toughest challenges. The program works best when it serves a dual function of both helping communities while also putting service members on a path to a well-paying job or educational opportunity after their service. To meet this goal, AmeriCorps programs should embrace workforce development by providing career exploration that connects to the skills members build through service, credentialing, and job connections to set them up for post-service success.
Workforce development is an equity issue. The AmeriCorps federal agency and grantee organizations must prioritize professional development if they want national service to be a viable option for those who want to serve their community but lack the financial resources, social capital, or educational background necessary to easily find a new opportunity after their service ends. As Next100 and the author have previously written, the AmeriCorps federal agency must rethink old assumptions about who serves in AmeriCorps and be willing to modify outdated rules and ideas about the role of workforce development in the program in order to make these opportunities more accessible. Grantee organizations (the local partner who receives the AmeriCorps grant) must also devote the time and energy necessary to modify their programs to better support the post-service needs of their members.
This month, I published a new report designed to help further these essential workforce development goals for AmeriCorps’ programs. The research was informed by over forty interviews with both members and staff of AmeriCorps grantee organizations across the country, as well as the members and staff of national service advocacy and policy organizations. The interviews focused on AmeriCorps programs that were models for workforce development initiatives and had a track record of placing the majority of their graduates in full-time employment or educational opportunities after their term of service. Programs interviewed include: a climate corps that is part of The Corps Network in Texas; a rural program focused on food insecurity in Tennessee; a program providing social services in Baltimore; and a construction-oriented YouthBuild program in Las Vegas, to name just a few. These interviews informed the workforce development best practices and policy recommendations that are outlined in this report.
Many of the best practices and recommendations for grantee organizations in the report require additional resources and capacity from already cash-strapped AmeriCorps nonprofits and an underfunded federal agency. The ideal scenario to fund these efforts would come from additional congressional spending to support national service. Without a large federal investment, nonprofits may be able to find additional funding to support these efforts from philanthropic organizations or supplemental grants from other federal or state agencies. The AmeriCorps federal agency can also collaborate with other federal agencies to increase administrative capacity for workforce development initiatives and find additional funding sources for AmeriCorps grantee organizations.
In the recently released AmeriCorps Strategic Plan, the federal agency sets out the goal to “strengthen pathways to education, employment, and other opportunities [for Americorps service members].” To achieve this goal and increase the post-service success and placement opportunities for AmeriCorps members, the AmeriCorps federal agency can focus on effective workforce development strategies by updating outdated rules and guidelines with stakeholder input, making additional funds available for grantee agencies to support these efforts, and facilitating the sharing of best practices for workforce development among grantee organizations. The recommendations below outline best practices and policy recommendations for how both the Biden administration, Congress, and AmeriCorps grantee organizations can improve workforce development in AmeriCorps.
- Below, you’ll find a gloss of the report’s full suite of recommendations to the Biden administration, Congress, and grantee organizations.
- Track post-service outcomes and additional demographic data to better facilitate post-service opportunities for AmeriCorps members.
- Coordinate with the Department of Labor to streamline joint funding opportunities and fix grant alignment issues.
- Increase flexibility of the 80/20 rule, to ensure AmeriCorps members receive adequate workforce development training.
- Create a team dedicated to alumni management.
- Create a professional development portal with resources for grantee organizations.
- Modify the formula for fixed-price grants to prevent punishing grantee organizations if members leave service early for a full-time position.
- Create a Workforce Development Program Track so that post-service minded programs can offer more flexibility for members leaving service early.
- Strengthen the pathway from AmeriCorps to federal government jobs.
- Allocate explicit funding for workforce development in AmeriCorps and cross-agency collaboration.
- Revise funding and training rules for programs that work with opportunity youth to better support the unique needs of these programs.
- Revise rules governing alternative uses of the Segal Education Award and eliminate award expiration.
- Create and maintain relationships with industry-relevant employers and gather information on relevant training and credentials.
- Offer impactful skills or credentials that are employer-desired and stackable.
- Create professional development curricula that contextualize technical skill-building and provide training for participants in soft skills.
- Create a supportive and inclusive team culture that prioritizes alumni engagement and participant mentorship.
- Consider registering your program as a pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship.