Giving ‘Tough Love’ and Watching Confidence Grow: Life as a Youth Career Coach

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Last year, Juma launched YouthConnect in Seattle–a support program that provides work, financial capability training and career development coaching to young people who are disconnected from school and the workforce. It starts with a job in our social enterprise at Safeco Field, through which youth gain experience, learn soft skills and begin to build a resume. Through corporate partnerships, youth are supported to transition towards quality jobs with potential for career mobility towards a family sustaining wage.

We caught up with Alyssa Wilson, our youth Career Coach in Seattle, to learn more about her role, its challenges, and rewards. Here are the highlights!

JUMA: So what is a Career Coach?

Alyssa: As a Career Coach, I wear many hats! Given the title, my primary focus is on supporting a caseload of Opportunity Youth (youth ages 16-24 who are disconnected from work and school) on a daily basis, helping them alleviate barriers in their lives while assisting them to form a big picture understanding of where they want to go. I also create and present training materials for youth, build partnerships, and form meaningful relationships with a variety of businesses for youth to transition into after the YouthConnect program.

JUMA: What are some of the challenges that our youth face?

Alyssa: Our youth face external challenges, such as homelessness, lack of access to transportation and childcare, and unstable housing situations. We work hard to alleviate these barriers by partnering with organizations around Seattle to get them support. But beyond that, one of the biggest challenges is encouraging a shift in a youth’s mindset, helping them look at their perception of customer service, walking alongside them to establish soft skills, and encouraging them to understand what motivates them.

JUMA: What is a challenge of your work?

Alyssa: A challenge is when I have to deliver “tough love”, especially when I know a youth has a lot of potential yet is held back by barriers they have had in their life. As a Career Coach, it’s important to know when to support them closely and when to encourage a youth to move into new employment opportunities, even if it’s uncomfortable at times to network and learn from other professionals. The ability to express both care and concern is a difficult balance, but often is a sign that we are invested in the lives of these youth and are there to support them in their journey to success.

JUMA: What’s exciting about your work?

Alyssa: The most exciting part is being able to directly impact youth, many of whom have been disconnected for a while now. The YouthConnect program gives me the opportunity to impact youth that, despite being disengaged, are still searching for a way to get back on their feet.

It’s exciting to follow up with youth after their time in Juma, and hearing about their new job or enrollment back in school. Having the chance to see youth develop through the program, and seeing their transition beyond Juma is very cool. While there are still challenges our youth face and many learning experiences that are yet to come, you can see a confidence that they build when they are motivated and have not just a plan of where they want to go, but the knowledge of how they can work to get there.

JUMA: What was your first job? What did you learn from it?

Alyssa: I worked at the front desk of a gym. Besides learning how to fold towels, I learned invaluable soft skills. Having to be accountable to a job taught me many lessons in reliability and providing high-quality customer service–skills which I still use today!