Graduating AmeriCorps Members and Career Transition Needs

For a course in training needs assessment, I have been researching the career transitions needs of AmeriCorps members in Oregon the past couple of months.

Happy AmeriCorps Week! Drawing by Matt Honore - Oregon State Service Corps staffer + AmeriCorps alum

So far I’ve:

  • looked at extant data, including past pre-workshop surveys, interview transcripts, and studies like Diana Epstein’s The Long-Term Impacts of AmeriCorps on Participants and
  • conducted a pilot study, specifically a survey of 41 Oregon AmeriCorps and VISTA members who are within four months of ending their terms of service.
The pilot study focused primarily on career pathing and networking — skills, attitudes, and performance needs. It’s interesting what is rising to the surface.
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The first thing that jumped out at me in general was that members are thinking about their post-AmeriCorps plan far earlier than I had anticipated. 81 percent were thinking about next steps by Day One of their term. I was thinking the majority would hover around the 6-month mark, once they got a handle on their service project.
Networking
A paradox emerged from the data on networking. The majority of members who responded to the survey rely on networking (with people more established in their careers, as well as with friends and family members) as their top strategies for investigating next steps.
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However, the vast majority of members also find networking problematic in a range of ways — from not knowing whom to network with, to feeling like they are bothering the people they want to network with. In fact, only 24 percent of members said networking was unproblematic for them.
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Strikingly, networking skills correlate with a more positive attitude toward the transition. For the 24 percent of corps members who find networking unproblematic:
  • 88 percent are optimistic/hopeful about the end of their term and their transition to next steps (compared with 65 percent who find networking problematic, and 70 percent overall).
  • 50 percent are “anxious/worried” (compared with 59 percent who find networking problematic, and 56 percent overall).
I’d love to know whether people with a good attitude towards their next steps also happen to have a good attitude towards networking — or if there’s a causal relationship (in either direction) among the two.
Career pathing
The other skill area I looked at included career pathing. I started by looking at survey results for people who report having their plans “firmly in place” — but the arc of their responses for all other questions looked really similar to overall responses.
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For people who are thinking primarily in terms of the role or job function they’ll play:
  • More are optimistic about the impending transition — 91 percent vs. 45 percent who aren’t thinking in terms of role (and 70 percent overall)
  • Most plan to search for jobs after AmeriCorps (versus planning to go to grad school, travel, or do another term of service)
  • The overwhelming majority — 92 percent — plan to find a job when the term ends (versus 36 percent of others)
  • 58 percent started thinking about their post-AmeriCorps career move before they started their term (versus 39 percent of others)
  • More than any other strategy to prepare for next steps, this group relied on reflection (92 percent — most other groups relied most on networking)
  • This group also relied on the widest variety of resources — 8 of those I listed as options in the survey
What’s fascinating to me about this set of numbers is that if I just look at people who are planning to get a job after the corps, a huge number are anxious (72 percent for job seekers overall; 54 percent for those focusing on their professional role) or at least uncertain (64 percent for job seekers overall; only 45 percent for those focusing on their role).
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On the other hand, among members who are focusing more on the issue they care about in their career:
  • 69 percent are excited about the transition! No one else is excited about it. Well, only 26 percent of others are excited about it.
  • 69 percent are heading to grad school (might explain the excitement) — whereas only 19 percent of others are going to grad school
  • 100 percent started thinking about next steps by Day One in the corps
Hmmm…
It appears that focusing on the role you’ll play in the workforce ain’t a bad strategy — at least if attitude is a good indicator. It may be that when you focus on role, you’re relying more on yourself and leaving less to chance or others.
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Literally, this group relied relatively less on networking (though they did network!), more on reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses, and took advantage of a wider variety of career resources available.
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An area for further investigation is, do the frequent opportunities for in-service training offer additional benefits to people entering their career through the lens of role? — because training is often more tied to specific job skills (like grant writing, for VISTAs) than issue.
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These initial findings are really tempting me to keep researching (beyond the scope of my class).
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Happy AmeriCorps Week, by the way!
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HealthCorps Proven Effective in Preventing Obesity in Children

Last month, HealthCorps founder Dr. Mehmet Oz (author and heart surgeon) presented findings of a recent study on the impact of HealthCorps Coordinators in their communities.

Dr. Oz, HealthCorps Founder

Dr. Oz, HealthCorps Founder

A new study on HealthCorps—a school-based educational and mentoring program modeled after the Peace Corps—shows that its students are “reducing soda consumption, exercising more and developing a better understanding of healthy behaviors.” The study looked at 971 high school students enrolled in 11 New York City high schools (although HealthCorps operates in 50 schools in nine states across the United States).

The two-year study was conducted by Professor John Cawley, Ph.D., in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Cawley’s research includes a range of topics connected to the “economics of obesity” like the “effect of body weight on labor market outcomes such as wage rates, unemployment, employment disability, and the transition from welfare to work, and  “the role of body weight in adolescent behavior, such as smoking and sexual activity.”

Dr. Oz said, who presented the study’s findings in June, said:

“These findings underscore the effectiveness of our peer mentoring program in our mission to stem child Continue reading

Evaluating the Impact of Youth Civic Engagement on Development

Picture 8As the momentum for youth civic engagement in the US and internationally continues, the need  to evaluate and demonstrate the impact of these activities on development becomes clearer, to encourage both greater and long-term investment in youth service.

Youth voluntary service programs exist in dozens of countries and communities around the world, and new programs and policy initiatives are currently being developed in many others, often with the help of international organizations like UNICEF, UN Volunteers/UNDP, and the International Youth Foundation. These programs engage many more young people in service while also making positive Continue reading

Survey Asks Former AmeriCorps Members Why They Joined, Stayed, or Left

Natalie Banks of National Service Consulting is conducting a 12-question, anonymous survey with former AmeriCorps members to gather input on why members join, stay, and leave programs.

She wants to hear from former members of all AmeriCorps programs, including NCCC, State and National, VISTA, Tribes, Education Award, and Leaders, regardless of how long you served, or if you completed your term. She especially wants participation from people who terminated their service early. Results will help in developing materials that provide specific Continue reading

New Online Discussion Board for the Serve America Act Implementation

Serve America ActIn response to the Kennedy Serve America Act that will take effect October 1, the Corporation for National and Community Service is holding listening sessions — Katrina Mathis wrote about these this past week — and launching a few conference calls and an online discussion board where you can share your thoughts.

To achieve the goals of the Serve America Act — including expanding opportunities for all Americans to serve; focusing on important national outcomes; serving as a catalyst for social innovation; and supporting the nonprofit sector — the Corporation is swinging open the door to hear as many ideas as possible, in order to glean the best ideas and thoughts from Continue reading

Engaging Service Members of All Ages and Abilities in Service

Living today for a better tomorrow

May has been declared Older Americans Month, by the Administration on Aging (AoA) out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the AoA: “This year’s theme ‘Living Today for a Better Tomorrow’ reflects AoA’s continued focus on prevention efforts and programs throughout the country that are helping older adults have better health as they age.” Many seniors of all abilities are “living today for a better tomorrow” by committing themselves to national and community service through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn & Serve programs.

In May 2007, the Corporation for National and Community Service released “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research” (PDF). The study “documents major findings from more than 30 rigorous and longitudinal studies that reviewed the relationship between health and volunteering. The study, which were controlled for other factors, found that volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health.”

Key findings include:

  • Older adults are more likely to receive greater health benefits from volunteering; including improved physical and Continue reading

National Service as Paid Volunteering? Uh…No.

If you’ve been considering a term of national service, keep in mind some of the biggest differences between doing a year-long term of full-time service and serving as a community volunteer.

To the uninitiated, a term of national service can seem to be “paid volunteering” because participants earn a basic living allowance. However, real differences exist, and local communities throughout the United States feel the direct impact of those differences.

Community Volunteers

From Flickr user who.log.why

From Flickr user who.log.why

Community volunteers donate their time through a nonprofit or school. They improve their communities because they can extend the human resource capacity of the places where they volunteer.

The amount of time they donate is up to them, but it’s usually part time. Some volunteers join a service project for a few hours on a single day, achieve greatness, feel good, and move on.

An organization’s part-time, longer term community volunteers may help out on sustained projects, or they may tackle shorter tasks that change from day to day.

Finally, as long as their duties are within the bounds of labor laws, the specific assignments are between community volunteers and their supervisors. Community volunteer service rarely comes under strict scrutiny for effectiveness, sustainability, and performance measures the way national service corps member positions do.

In sum, in the United States millions of community volunteers collectively devote billions of hours of their time to causes they believe in. Their contributions to social services are crucial to the operation of most nonprofit organizations and schools. Most serve on a part-time basis, often while in school, gainfully employed, or retired.

National Service Corps Members

picture-10Full-time national service is different in that participants — often called members or corps members — really dedicate all their work-day time to their service. In fact in at least two programs, members cannot hold down any work outside of their service.

National service programs in the United States include AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, AmeriCorps*NCCC, Teach For America, City Year, and many, many others (see the list of Corps and Coalitions in the right-hand side bar of this blog) not all of which receive funds from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

CNCS funds—in part—most of these domestic service corps. It invests money through states, national organizations, and local communities, and that funding is leveraged through host service site matching contributions and other private donations.

Each service program is evaluated and approved at the state or federal government level before funding comes through and corps member recruitment begins. Grant proposals requesting funding for members must show performance outcomes, goals, and measurements. Corps members and their supervisors track the effectiveness of their service regularly, and supervisors write grant reports detailing corps member achievements.

Corps members initiate and lead hefty projects, on critical issues, like disaster preparedness and response, education, poverty, environment, and public safety.

Because corps members serve for a period of 10 to 12 months (or longer, if they commit to a second term) they have a chance to affect lasting, positive change in their organizations — through developing new programs, identifying and going after new sources of funding, and leveraging the efforts of millions of community volunteers.

Corps members also change their communities in permanent ways — by serving in schools, tutoring struggling kids throughout their term, consistently mentoring children of incarcerated parents, increasing the job skills of recent immigrants or high school dropouts, rebuilding communities in the wake of natural disasters, and creating access to affordable health care through local clinics and health organizations and more.

Finally national service is an investment in the corps members themselves, developing the future of public service leadership in the United States. National service corps members receive hours of targeted technical skill-building training throughout their terms. Two-thirds of AmeriCorps members followed in a longitudinal study go on to public service careers. The Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award has made further education possible for thousands of alumni.

The achievements of community volunteers are many and great.  The service of AmeriCorps members is closer to the equivalent of the federal government offering human resource grants to local communities to contribute in crucial capacities. It’s not paid volunteering.

Check out Tim’s post on Change/Wire, which also features video testimonials of service corps participants talk about their achievements.

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