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About Our Areas of Work
We organize our work into three areas to help low-income youth & adults:

Catalyzing CTE Through Pay for Success: Equipping High-Need Youth for the Future Workforce

students working

Our nation faces some daunting economic and workforce challenges, including a growing gap between the skills employers need versus those workers can offer. But there’s an upside to current conditions—an incredible opportunity to increase the diversity of our country’s talent pipeline and improve career prospects for underserved, high-need youth. The Catalyzing CTE though Pay for Success Competition, recently launched by Jobs for the Future and Social Finance, Inc., seeks to do just that.

Pay for Success is an innovative public-private funding model that drives government resources toward proven programs. As the nation’s first Pay for Success competition in K-12 education, Catalyzing CTE aims to spur the development and expansion of high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs for youth who are at risk of not graduating high school or finding a good job. 

What Is High-Quality CTE?

CTE is critical to preparing a skilled American workforce that meets employer needs. For many students, CTE offers an increasingly important pathway to postsecondary education that leads to credentials and careers in high-demand occupations.

According to criteria established by the federal Office of Career, Technical, Adult Education, a high-quality CTE program incorporates program elements including:

  • providing students with information about jobs in-demand industry sectors
  • aligning education and career pathways with in-demand industry sectors
  • offering structured (and non-duplicative) sequences of coursework that connect high school and college so students can earn industry-recognized credentials.

Addressing High Unemployment Among Underserved Populations 

The U.S. Department of Education defines “underserved, high-need youth” as “individuals who are at risk of educational failure or otherwise in need of special assistance and support.” Students who are designated as underserved, high-need youth also possess the following characteristics: live in poverty, attend schools with high minority populations, are below grade level, are out-of-school without a high school diploma, are at risk of not graduating with a high school diploma, are homeless, and/or have been incarcerated.

Low-income and minority populations in both rural and urban communities across the U.S. have been disproportionately impacted by lingering negative effects of the 2007 Great Recession. 

These adverse effects include––but are not limited to––unemployment and underemployment. A 2017 report from the Greater Cities Institute analyzed a decade of youth employment data in Chicago and found that African-American and Latino youth ages 16-24 were unemployed at much higher rates than their white peers. The study revealed that nearly 43% of black males ages 20-24 were out-of-school and not working, compared to only 8.5% of white males. Data from New York City and Los Angeles illustrate similar patterns. Rural communities also face negative effects of under- and unemployment. A 2015 report by the USDA found that the unemployment rate for rural adults ages 25 and older without a high school diploma was 15% in 2010, compared to a national rate of 9.6%.  

Lessons from the Field

JFF has extensive experience and expertise in guiding the development of high-quality CTE programming. Launched in 2012, JFF’s Pathways to Prosperity Network leads a national network of states and regions designing grades 9-14 college and career pathways. As an example, Delaware has built a robust statewide college and career pathways system that is on track to reach every high school in the state by 2018. JFF is also currently supporting the expansion of registered apprenticeships through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor. Our role includes supporting diversity efforts related to the growth of registered apprenticeships in high-demand industries such as advanced manufacturing and hospitality. In a 2015 report, we analyzed how employer-led industry partnerships could address the crisis of youth unemployment by targeting opportunity youth (youth ages 16-24 that are out-of-school and not working).

MeetIng the Challenge Through Pay for Success

As educators, employers, and communities continue to celebrate the benefits of CTE programming beyond CTE Month this February, we encourage you to participate in the Catalyzing CTE though Pay for Success Competition, with applications due March 17. Developing and scaling effective CTE programs is a win-win: High-quality CTE programs can both bolster the economic prospects of underserved, high-need youth and connect employers to a fresh talent pipeline.

For more information, visit and download the request for proposals.