Building a Thriving Out-of-School Time Workforce: What Would it Look Like if We Nailed It?

Every Hour Counts
8 min readJul 18, 2022

By Desiree Morales, Every Hour Counts

“Our students would have access to high quality workers that are happy and well supported! The field would be recognized for its critical role in our community.” Malia Villareal, Public & Strategic Development Manager at California Teaching Fellows Foundation, shared this vision for young people and the out-of-school time (OST) educators who support them on a recent Every Hour Counts Workforce Development Work Group call.

Every Hour Counts launched a Workforce Development Work Group in November to convene intermediary leaders from our network and understand the specific ways staffing challenges have shown up in afterschool and summer programs in their cities. Over the course of several calls, we teased out the various barriers and opportunities that make up the current OST staffing landscape and the ways intermediaries and their partners were innovating to respond to them–you can read about it in our prior post, Amidst a Staffing Crisis: Understanding how to Recruit, Retain, and Support Afterschool Professionals.

We’re not the only ones tackling this issue. In March, the National AfterSchool Association (NAA) convened leaders from around the country for a two-day session on creating a thriving OST workforce. In a recent article, How Do We Create a Thriving Workforce? they opened by pointing out that “Over the last 20 years, progress has been made in research, practice, and policies related to program quality, yet workforce stability, recruitment, and retention of direct service workers continues to be a challenge.”

from the National AfterSchool Association

NAA went on to note thatGuaranteeing job quality creates stability in our workforce, allowing afterschool professionals to deliver high-quality programs, ultimately leading to positive youth outcomes. This concept…has been coined The OST Quality Connection.

At the same time, a body of research has emerged indicating that families, schools, and communities have a deepening appreciation–and demand for–high-quality OST programs which yield social, emotional, and academic outcomes for young people, especially as they are reeling from losses stemming from the pandemic over the last several years. A 2021 study from Learning Heroes commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, Out-of-School Time Programs: Paving the Way for Children to Find Passion, Purpose & Voice — national surveys of K-8 parents, teachers, and program providers, indicates that parents, teachers and program providers all see OST programs as providing a child-centered experience that is differentiated and highly valuable. Parent responses suggest that currently available program seats cannot meet the growing demand and participation in high-quality opportunities is not equitably distributed. The research offers a unique opportunity to build and seek funding for ongoing partnerships between schools and OST providers in supporting parents’ top priority–their children’s social and emotional health.

from Learning Heroes

Seizing Collective Will for Deep Investment in Equitable Pay

In order for providers to implement intentional, high quality programs that yield outcomes for young people, they must be designed and staffed by educators who are knowledgeable about the research and implications, able to incorporate that knowledge into real world activities for young people, and willing to do the labor intensive work for sometimes lower pay than an entry level employee working in retail. During Every Hour Counts Workforce Development Work Group meetings, intermediary leaders expressed frustration at the barriers they face as they work to create competitive job opportunities and staff up growing programs.

Suzette Harvey, CEO of Prime Time Palm Beach County, is one of those frustrated leaders. Eager to invest in the program staff who helped vulnerable Floridians through the pandemic, her colleagues at Prime Time developed a creative way to keep OST practitioners learning so they can continue to improve their practice and provide high quality experiences for young people. With the support of the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, Prime Time offered stipends to all OST practitioners who are currently working with children and youth in Palm Beach County and have completed trainings offered on Prime Time’s training calendar. This has helped with staff retention, but programs are still operating with a fraction of the staff they need in order to meet the demand for seats in high-quality programs.

“Being able to train staff and pay them to attend training is a huge help in offsetting the gap between low wages in our field and the wages at companies like Target, where they don’t need such training,” reflected Katherine Gopie, Prime Time’s Director of Professional Development.

“As a field we have to shift our focus toward leveraging the tools and supports that we have available, and figure out how to share them widely across our community, in order to attract more people to our field and help mitigate this workforce crisis.”

In King County, which includes Seattle, the conversation has shifted from advocating for a “living” wage to a “thriving” wage. Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) Executive Director Jessica Werner shared that “it’s not a staff shortage crisis as much as people aren’t willing to do this work when they can make the same amount of money at McDonald’s. This is really an underfunded nonprofit sector crisis and there’s a need for us to elevate wages.”

YDEKC recently hosted a Thriving Leaders Forum: Reimagining Pay Equity in Youth-serving Nonprofits, where panelists shared ideas like Developing a compensation philosophy that aligns with organizational values, and Reparative action and investment in Black and Indigenous women through innovative approaches to philanthropy such as an LLC that pays individuals directly. In their Event Summary & Resources: Thriving Leaders Forum on Pay Equity, YDEKC has included a full list of the key ideas and resources that came out of the event.

from Youth Development Executives of King County

Validating the Value of OST Expertise and Creating Pathways for Leaders of Color

There’s also a clear path forward emerging as leaders innovate to increase staff pay, draw a clear connection between expert staff and program quality, and provide support and pathways for educators in the OST sector. And if decision-makers, including funders, are receptive to deepening and reframing how they invest in quality, there’s also an opportunity to cede power to educators of color who look like and come from the same communities as the young people in OST programs.

The California Teaching Fellows Foundation (CTFF), in partnership with Fresno area school districts, recruits high school students who intern as paraprofessionals to work in OST programs during their college years. These young people are recruited into teacher pipeline programs and, once certified, they join a community of racially and ethnically diverse teachers who have a common set of preparation experiences and ties to the local community.

“We believe that afterschool programs are fertile grounds to attract, retain, and diversify the teacher workforce,” stated Mike Snell, Chief Executive Officer at CTFF.

“This is an incredible opportunity to honor an historically marginalized workforce.”

Even with a robust and established recruitment plan, CTFF struggled with recruitment and turnover this year. Snell shared that reflecting on their exit interview process and data helped CTFF leaders realize they need to focus on improving pay, scheduling, and flexibility for fellows.

“Our base pay starting rate next year is $17 per hour and we’re worried it isn’t going to be enough,” said Snell. “There’s so much funding coming into California right now and that is amazing–but it’s going to put pressure on a limited resource: staff.”

CTFF is increasing professional development hours for fellows, both to prepare them for their jobs and to support mental health. CTFF also provides strategic offboarding to continue to support fellows along their career journey when their time at CTFF ends.

Looking to older youth and identifying talent within programs is a winning strategy because the benefits are twofold: it is an investment in staff development and youth development. In Cleveland, Ohio, Ysian Hassel first came to MyCom as a youth participant her freshman year of high school and transitioned to becoming a staff member upon graduation. She credits MyCom for always giving her opportunities to grow with a wage that grew alongside her work experience. Hassel started as a youth participant, interned with her mentor, and now mentors youth participants herself. She expressed gratitude for the learning, benefits, and opportunities to travel out of state for her work, but finds herself at a point where she wants to meet her changing needs:

“As young adults we have to be making some type of livable wage, we want to have our own cars, our own homes, and we can’t do that getting paid $9–12 an hour.”

These pathways create exciting opportunities for young people while building toward a sustainable and diverse workforce. Sometimes this also creates new challenges that further exacerbates the need for deep investment in staffing, including rethinking and reframing what a career pathway can and should be.

Beverly Burks, Network Manager for MyCom, noted that Hassel’s employment is a result of MyCom’s investment in opportunity youth. As MyCom worked to elevate salaries in response to high turnover, she consistently heard from smaller provider agencies that pay increases at the program level throws off their entire salary schedule.

“We partner with youth-serving organizations across the county and we’re working to elevate salaries of our [OST program] coordinators. But directors of small agencies say I can’t pay them what you want to pay them because I just started making that,” said Burks. “They are underfunded.”

Importantly, there’s also an impassioned consensus among intermediary leaders that nailing it includes opportunities for educators to grow right where they are, without ever leaving the aspect of the work that puts them directly in front of children.

“People could do this work at the front line for their whole career, if that’s where their skills and passion shine best,” shared Carla Stough Huffman of the Greater Rochester Afterschool & Summer Alliance (GRASA), an initiative of Rochester Area Community Foundation (RACF).

“I love that,” responded Snell.

“We always looked at after school as this launching pad into a larger career, and what if after school could be the destination? What if your passion for afterschool could be a lifelong career? I think that’s a beautiful vision.”

Extending Program Culture to Youth Workers

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs features prominently in OST program culture. Ensuring that young people get their needs met and are supported to self-actualize in welcoming learning environments is paramount. As burnout and turnover continue to leave programs understaffed, many providers and intermediaries are doubling down on extending this culture of care and community to the adults in the room.

After School Matters Director of Learning Communities Emily Nott recently led a session on compassionate care at an Afterschool Symposium hosted by Prime Time Palm Beach County. In The Empty Cup: Community Care for Youth Development Practitioners, she outlined After School Matters key practices and noted that planning and implementing collaborative learning communities isn’t just about content, it’s also about care.

“We center youth voices and build community, why wouldn’t we ensure that instructor voices are centered?” she asked. “When it comes to instructors: we trust that you know what you need.”

Further Reading:

AIR Power of Us Workforce Survey is part of a national effort to gather and understand the stories of professionals and volunteers in youth-serving fields. Please add your story!
NAA Three Barriers Preventing a Thriving Workforce
The Education Trust A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines

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Every Hour Counts

National Network of Cities Dedicated to Expanded Learning, Equity, & Making Learning Fun