Bart Hirsch’s New Book Addresses Job Skills for Minority Youth

Bart Hirsch’s New Book Addresses Job Skills for Minority Youth

Job Skills for Minority Youth

With youth unemployment a longstanding concern, how can we best help minority young people to develop marketable job skills? Professor Barton Hirsch’s new book, Job Skills and Minority Youth, provides new understanding of the best approaches for cultivating job skills that lead to hiring success.

The book, which has been highly praised by reviewers, reveals what can be learned from two initiatives to boost minority youth employment. One is a large-scale after-school program that provides apprenticeship-type experiences. A second is a job interview training program for high school students, developed with input from human resources professionals.

Hirsch’s evaluation of the After School Matters apprenticeship program for Chicago high school students identified factors that would improve hiring. Twenty-eight human resources professionals conducted mock job interviews with After School Matters youth over three years, and their interviews revealed key areas for training. For example, “a lot of these kids had experiences and skills that employers would value, but the kids don’t know that and don’t know how to communicate that,” Hirsch notes.

Armed with his findings from the After School Matters evaluation, Hirsch and his research team developed a job interview training program for high school students. The program, which took six class periods in vocational classes, doubled the hiring rate based on mock interviews. This finding is based on a comparison of mock interviewers’ hiring decisions pre- and post-training.

Job Skills and Minority Youth is notable for its insights into effective job training. “We learned that programs need to teach young people both hard and soft skills,” Hirsch says. “They need to use those skills to accomplish something in the job training program.” In addition, the teenagers need to learn how to communicate about work issues and even more fundamentally how to be at ease talking with adults, according to Hirsch.

The book is important because it shows what job training programs should include. “It suggests that low-income minority kids do have a lot of skills they could bring to the workplace, and it would do businesses well to hire them,” says Hirsch. His research data identifies the factors that would improve hiring.

Richard Lerner of Tufts University says of Job Skills and Minority Youth, “The development of a mock job interview for high school students, administered by experienced human resource professionals, is especially innovative and of enormous immediate use for practitioners.  Professor Hirsch argues that a positive hiring decision in the mock interview is the key outcome variable, and he discusses how well the various programs provide young people with the experiences and skills they will need to get hired.” Lerner describes the book as a “brilliant evaluation” and “a major contribution to the literature on positive youth development.”

"This is amazing and important work and a very well written book. Hirsch … zooms in on a pivotal and concrete step towards increasing youth employment: the job interview. The development of a mock job interview for teens allows everyone involved to focus on something concrete and relatively controllable. … In short, Hirsch nailed it. Read the book. Take notes. Ask for the tools. This is really terrific work," says Karen Pittman, president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment.

“One of the most distinctive and promising aspects of the program described in this book is its enlistment of representatives from 'primary' labor market firms – HR officers – to aid in training and testing disadvantaged youth,” notes Stephen Hamilton of Cornell University. “The 'backward mapping' scheme laid out by Hirsch serves as both a succinct summary of the logic of the program and a clear rationale for focusing efforts on what matters most in helping to open opportunities for young people from Chicago's poorest neighborhoods and for others from comparable communities.”

Job Skills and Minority Youth was published by Cambridge University Press. The funders for Hirsch’s research were the William T. Grant Foundation, Wallace Foundation and Searle Fund.

Hirsch is a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. A psychologist whose work emphasizes research and program development in relation to adolescents, he is the author of two other books about adolescents, After-School Centers and Youth Development: Case Studies of Success and Failure (with Nancy Deutsch and David DuBois) and A Place to Call Home: After-School Programs for Urban Youth. Each of these previous books won the Social Policy Award for Best Authored Book from the Society for Research on Adolescence.


By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 1/4/16