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This article is largely adapted from a history of NYEC prepared in 2000 by Alan Zuckerman, a former Executive Director of NYEC, former board member, and active member of NYEC since its inception.

In 1979, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYEC's original name) was organized by OIC of America and the National Child Labor Committee. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) had been amended in 1978 to include the Youth Employment Demonstration Projects Act (YEDPA) and the U.S. Department of Labor created a Youth Office in the Manpower Administration. In 1979, federal funding for youth employment programs peaked at approximately $15 Billion in 2003 dollars. 

Vice-President Walter Mondale chaired a Task Force on Youth Employment that was charged with developing youth employment legislation based on the experience and research funded under YEDPA.  The proposed legislation was comprehensive and would have established a system for preparing youth for employment, with a focus on the needs of low-income youth.  NYAC was organized and led by national community-based organizations to support the development of the new legislation and to ensure that community-based approaches were an integral part of the delivery system.  NYAC adopted these principles at its inception:

  • Everyone who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so.
  • Too many youth are out of the economy with little hope and few skills.
  • Youth employment services must be targeted to those that most need help.
  • Established organizations cannot adequately serve all youth.
  • A national youth policy must establish a long-term commitment to serving youth.

Initial funding for the Coalition was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.  This funding enabled the Coalition to expand its membership, engage in dialogue with practitioners and policy makers, and advocate for the needs of unemployed youth. The founding members of the Coalition were predominantly national community based organizations and national youth organizations. The Coalition was housed in the office of the National Child Labor Committee in New York City. 

In its early years, the Coalition's membership broadened to include research organizations, such as the MDRC and Public/Private Ventures, and public interest groups, such as National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  In addition, a number of New York City youth programs joined the Coalition, including local affiliates of national CBO members and local youth serving organizations. During this period, NYAC conducted its business and built its network of youth programs through quarterly membership meetings.  Most of the members at this time were located along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington. During these meetings, future activities were planned and roundtable discussions were conducted that focused on current youth policies and programs.  The roundtables brought practitioners, researchers, and policymakers together to share information about youth programs, practices and policies.

In 1981, the newly-elected President and his Secretary of Labor vowed to eliminate CETA.  In 1982, the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) replaced CETA, with bipartisan support in Congress. Under JTPA, employment and training programs were more narrowly focused on job placement and meeting the needs of employers.  Lower costs and high placement rates were mandated, hence work experience (except for the Summer Youth Employment Program) and long-term services were reduced significantly.  Performance contracting came into vogue and most programs served people who could easily be employed.  Services to high-risk youth were exceptions, despite legislative goals to serve those most in need.

The immediate impact was for NYAC to change its name to NYEC: the National Youth Employment Coalition.  The word, "Advocacy" was determined to be too political and confrontational in the political environment of this period.  Nevertheless, the Coalition's focus on advocacy was not diminished. During this period, NYEC received its first grant from the Ford Foundation to determine JTPA's impact on young people and community-based organizations.  The conclusion of the study was that JTPA steered less funding to community-based organizations and fewer services were being provided to out-of-school, Black and Hispanic youth. 

In the mid-1980s, NYEC was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor to develop local youth employment coalitions.  NYEC's local coalition building efforts continued for more than ten years.  Active coalitions were established in New York, Boston, Utah, Phoenix, and San Francisco.  The effort increased the number of NYEC members, established links to youth programs all over the United States, and enabled NYEC to emerge as a national force.

In the late 1980's, NYEC established a clearinghouse under a grant from the Donner Foundation.  Under this project, NYEC gathered and catalogued materials, reports, research and program descriptions that focused on services, policies and research designed to prepare youth for employment.  Unfortunately, NYEC was unable to sustain the clearinghouse after the two-year grant ended. 

The early 1990's were a time of crisis for NYEC, triggered by the lost of funding for the clearinghouse.  To respond to the crisis, NYEC's convened it first member retreat in Boston in 1993 where the Executive Committee and membership set priorities and reestablished NYEC's mission and purpose.  By this time, NYEC's membership had grown to approximately 50 organizations. The priorities set at the first retreat set the direction for the decade.  The development of a framework for identifying best practices eventually grew into PEPNet and the need to develop a new generation of employment and training professionals evolved over time into the New Leaders Academy.  NYEC moved from New York to Washington, DC later in 1993, where it was offered rent-free space by the W.T. Grant Foundation's Commission on Work, Families and Citizenship.

In 1993, the national JTPA evaluation commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor was released. The study found that out-of-school males who participated in JTPA youth employment programs did not benefit significantly, as measured by employment rates and earnings.  This study was used to justify a massive cut (80%) to the JTPA year-round youth employment program.  In response, NYEC convened its members and prepared a statement with recommendations of ways to improve the services to young people.  In its 1994 Report to the Secretary of Labor, NYEC recommended that rather than cut funds in a period of high unemployment, what was needed was the development of standards and improved practices to assure that youth programs had an impact on the lives of young people.  NYEC urged the creation of policies to identify those youth employment programs that were making an impact on the lives of youth and use their experience to improve other youth employment programs.

In 1995, NYEC launched the Promising and Effective Practices Network (PEPNet), largely in response to the assumption that "nothing works" and the drastic cut in federal funding for youth employment and training programs. In 1998, NYEC launched the New Leaders Academy to identify and prepare the next generation of leaders of the field. Also in 1998, NYEC and the American Youth Policy Forum jointly purchased a building in Washington, DC.

Recently, NYEC's work and impact have expanded significantly. NYEC has: developed a self-assessment tool for education programs and schools serving vulnerable youth; launched a project-based learning opportunity for young people focused on institutional racism; developed and tested a measurement instrument that reflects developmental enhancements that result from youth employment programs; strengthened the linkages between the workforce development and juvenile justice field; served as part of national collaborative designed to equip state and local workforce development systems to better serve youth with disabilities; and provided capacity building opportunities for the leadership of local workforce investment boards.  NYEC embarked on an effort to bring the lessons of PEPNet to developing nations across the globe. NYEC has also intensified its policy and advocacy efforts and improved services to members.  In 2002, NYEC was selected as "One of America's 100 Best Charities" by Worth Magazine.

In the past decade, with the growth of PEPNet, the implementation of the New Leaders Academy, the development of a three-year plan, and the advent of the Workforce Investment Act, NYEC has grown steadily and significantly from just over 100 members in 1997 to over 250 members representing 41 states today.

Over the years, NYEC has emerged as a major player in the development of youth workforce development policy and the improvement of youth workforce development and youth development practices.  Today, foundations; state, local, and federal agencies; national and international youth organizations; and local and national media outlets regularly consult NYEC.  Congressional staff seek-out NYEC for its policy and program expertise.  NYEC makes numerous presentations at meetings of youth employment, workforce development, and youth development professional associations.  Foreign visitors interested in American youth policy and practice visit NYEC and its member agencies.

NYEC is commited to improving the effectiveness of organizations that help youth become productive citizens.  Toward this end, NYEC: 

  • Tracks, crafts, and influences policy;
  • Sets and promotes quality standards;
  • Provides and supports professional development; and
  • Builds and increases the capacity of organizations and programs.


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