Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program Offers Many Needed Services

/ December 3, 2018

By Carla Garrett

About the Author

Carla Garrett is the WIOA Youth Services program manager with Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Carla supervises and participates in the development, analysis, monitoring, and administration of grants from the state to local workforce development areas. Carla holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health & Human Sciences from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Memphis.

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Who supports a child with a disability? When you think of such children, what does their support team look like?

Now, think of who supports a youth/young adult with a disability? What does their support team look like?

I recognize that the answer will be different for every reader, but I’ll speak from my experience through my work with children and youth.

Through my years of working in social service, I saw that a child with a disability could have the support of their parents/guardian, family, teachers, school, school peers, doctors, churches, community programs, additional educational/therapy programs outside of school, and much more. I would also notice that as the child grew to be a youth/young adult with a disability, the support system would dwindle. It could have been because the level of care needed to be more specific, or because they desired more independence, or a host of many other factors. Whatever the reason, the support system was no longer as robust.

In my work with youth with disabilities, I found, when giving youth with disabilities and youth without disabilities a new project or assignment, both were eager to learn and able to retain the information given.  When given instructions to use that information to complete a task or accomplish a goal, both were able to do so independently or with a group. Some required additional guidance, but with patience and understanding from the staff, all of the youth were able to succeed. Many of these students didn’t know what they were capable of until they were given the opportunity to try.

That is why I am so excited to share information about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Services program, which is offered through the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, where I work now. The WIOA Youth program serves eligible youth who are 14-24 years old facing specific barriers to employment or school completion.  The WIOA Youth program provides individualized guidance and support and access to individuals with a disability and youth facing other barriers to post-secondary opportunities and career pathways.

In March 2018, the number of youth between the ages of 16-24 who were “disconnected” in Tennessee (listed as not in school and not working) was estimated to be 103,600 (“Youth Disconnection,” 2018). Youth that fall into this category are identified as disconnected youth because they are disconnected from educational and workforce pathways that could lead to independent, rewarding adulthoods. Young people – particularly young men – of color, youth living in poverty or with a disability, and young mothers are all far more likely to be disconnected than their peers, according to a report by Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps in 2018.

Overall, an estimated 4.6 million young Americans are neither working nor in school, says the “Youth Disconnection” report for 2018.

Without guidance, support, and access to opportunities, a youth can become disconnected. The WIOA Youth program aims to combat just that.

To find out more information on the WIOA Youth Program in your area or see if your son or daughter might qualify, visit your local American Job Center.

Every youth participating in the WIOA Youth program MUST have access to all services listed below. The WIOA Youth Program aims to ensure that every youth will have access to a successful future.

Service for ALL.

Program eligibility requirements:

*Basic skills deficient and English language learner: An OSY youth must also be a recipient of a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent and a low-income individual.

**Compulsory school attendance: School year calendar quarter is based on how a local school district defines school-year quarters.

***Requires additional assistance: An OSY youth must also be low-income and meet the requirements for barrier set by the local area.

WIOA Youth program services are:

  • Paid and unpaid work experiences, which may include the following types of work experiences:
    • Summer employment opportunities and other employment opportunities throughout the year
    • Pre-apprenticeship programs;
    • Internships and job shadowing
    • On-the-job training opportunities
  • Tutoringstudy skills trainingand dropout prevention
  • Alternative secondary school servicesor dropout recovery services
  • Occupational skill training, which leads to recognized post-secondary credentials that align with in-demand industry sectors or occupations in the local area involved.
  • Education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster
  • Leadership development opportunities
  • Supportive Services (Linkages to community services, transportation assistance, legal aid services, etc.)
  • Adult mentoring
  • Follow up services
  • Comprehensive guidance and counseling(which may include drug and alcohol abuse counseling)
  • Financial Literacy education
  • Entrepreneurial skills training
  • Career awarenesscareer counseling, and career exploration services
  • Activities that help youth prepare for and transition to post-secondary education and training.

 *Service activities are based on the 14 program elements required under WIOA


My thanks to Carla for sharing information about the Youth Services program. I hope you will share this information with others outside of the disability community, as this program could help many other young people find their path to employment! American Job Centers are a resource that few Tennesseans seem to know about. Let’s change that. As always, if you have questions or concerns about this blog post, please email me at

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