Employment & Education

Connecting Opportunity Youth to Employment and Education Pathways

The Forum for Community Solutions strongly believes in helping to build a future where communities have the power and resources to create solutions to social and economic problems they face. Our collaborations with partners across the country work to build education and employment pathways for those with the least access to opportunity.

A major focus of the Opportunity Youth Forum is on supporting young adults to find success in education and in the workplace. To that end, the dozens of communities that comprise the Opportunity Youth Forum participate in some (or all) of the following projects focused to some degree on education and/or employment:

  • The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (21 communities)
  • Opportunity Works (7 communities)
  • 100,000 Opportunities Initiative (™) Demonstration Cities (5 communities)
  • Pathways to Careers (5 communities)

Read more about each of these projects below.



The Forum for Community Solutions strongly believes in helping to build a future where communities have the power and resources to create solutions to social and economic problems they face. Our collaborations with partners across the country work to build education and employment pathways for those with the least access to opportunity.

Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund

The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund launched in July 2012 at the Aspen Institute, and was the first funding collaborative developed and led by the Forum for Community Solutions. The 21 community members of the Opportunity Youth Incentive fund constitute the original members of what is now the Opportunity Youth Forum.

The goals of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund are two-fold:

  1. To build strong evidence of success for utilizing the collective impact community collaboration strategy to build and deepen pathways that achieve better outcomes in education and employment for opportunity youth.
  2. To make the case for increased adoption of the collective impact and community collaboration strategy as an effective model for community change.

The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund is a long-term systems change initiative that invests in a network of community grantees that design and implement comprehensive second chance pathways for opportunity youth. The work of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund has been generating significant learning about what works in designing pathways to education and employment.  Recent evaluation reports note the following successes of this network:

  • Collaboratives are targeting over 11,000 demographically diverse opportunity youth through pilot programs and pathways
  • Collaboratives are addressing systemic barriers to reconnection of opportunity youth in their communities through strengthening existing pathways and designing new pathways that respond to barriers to accessing services and service gaps
  • Collaboratives are providing a range of services along the pathway to college and career success, with highest areas of focus including high school credentials, postsecondary/career bridging, and industry training
  • Collaboratives report that partner organizations are implementing practice changes
  • Collaboratives are working to build data capacity and foundations for data sharing infrastructure
  • Collaboratives focus on several priority populations, including boys and men of color, court-involved youth, pregnant and parenting youth, and homeless youth, representing a commitment to broadening access to opportunity for the most vulnerable youth

Read more about the impact of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund here.

Opportunity Works

Led by Jobs for the Future, in collaboration with the Forum for Community Solutions, the Opportunity Works initiative aims to connect opportunity youth of color with career and education pathways through partnerships with local organizations across the country. Using Jobs for the Future’s Back on Track framework, these organizations convene a cross-sector collaborative in their communities to improve outcomes for young people—with special attention paid to those who are homeless, and in or transitioning from the foster care and/or juvenile justice system. Opportunity Works is funded through a federal Social Innovation Fund award with generous match funding from the Andrus Family Fund and other foundations. Read a blog about this initiative here.

Opportunity Works, is building the evidence base of what works to improve the credential attainment and employment prospects of low-income opportunity youth. Opportunity Works supports seven communities (Boston, Hartford, CT; New Orleans, LA; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; Santa Clara, CA; and South King County, WA) to reconnect opportunity youth with education and employment on-ramps and pathways that dramatically improve their life trajectories. Opportunity Works places a special emphasis on strategies for engaging boys and men of color, and will document impact on this population in response to the call to action from the national My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

In San Francisco, the Road Map to Peace collaborative uses Back on Track to work with gang-involved/violence-exposed youth and help them not only achieve their secondary credential, but also transition into community-based training programs that lead to additional credentials with value in the local labor market. In New Orleans, Job for the Future’s’s framework helps the EMPLOY collaborative ensure that youth of color participating in “learn and earn” programs are trained to successfully meet local industry demands and sustain themselves and their families through high-growth careers.

Jobs for the Future and the Aspen Institute contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct a rigorous evaluation of Opportunity Works programs for youth, funded by federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grants and intermediary matching dollars. The Urban Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization based in Washington, DC.  The study consists of both an implementation and impact evaluation. The key findings covered significant ground and included: implementation of and fidelity to the model; the impact of Opportunity Works funding on the work on the ground; the population served across the sites; partnership development; recruitment and retention, and barriers causing attrition; youth feedback; staffing; data capacity; and use of funding.

Early outcome data is promising.  Over the three years of the initiative so far, over 1,500 youth have been directly served through Back on Track interventions.  Of these youth, 52% are male and 47% are female; 55% are Black, 30% Latino, and 7% White. Almost half (48%) are young men of color. Outcomes are promising: young men of color have had an 83% retention rate; over 600 youth have attained a high school credential; over 700 completed postsecondary bridging, with approximately 700 entering postsecondary education and training.  Youth are still enrolled in programming and JFF anticipates that the impact evaluation will show impacts in postsecondary credential attainment.

100,000 Opportunities Initiative (™) Demonstration Cities

In 2015, the Forum for Community Solutions, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, Starbucks Coffee Company,  the Schultz Family Foundation, and Walmart, helped to launch the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative™ an employer-led coalition focused on opportunity youth. This partnership seeks to create more pathways to economic prosperity for vulnerable youth and connect employers to this underutilized talent pipeline

The Forum for Community Solutions supports five Demonstration Cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix and Seattle — places with deepened capacity to engage employers and strengthen career pathways for opportunity youth.

Pathways to Careers Fund

In 2016, the Forum for Community Solutions launched the Pathways to Careers Fund, which builds on the work of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, and Demonstration Cities efforts, and seeks to create, accelerate, and expand innovative career pathways to improve job placement and retention for opportunity youth.

The Pathways to Careers Fund supports programs that partner with employers to clearly articulate and intentionally link education and/or training with improved employment outcomes in order to create new knowledge and advance the field’s ability to better serve opportunity youth, generate scalable and sustainable models, and demonstrate business value.

Learn more about the Pathways to Careers Fund here.