Youth can play many roles within an agency and when done right, active recruitment occurs at all levels of an organization.
Given that adolescence is by nature a time of transition, agencies need to engage in ongoing recruitment and succession planning to ensure that when youth “age out” or move on to their next challenge, youth voice isn’t lost in the organization.
Youth as consultants: Youth provide feedback on the agency/service area’s initiatives.
Reference group: Youth suggest strategies for improvement on the agency/service area’s plans.
Peer-to-peer support: Youth with lived experience receive training in areas such as active listening, conflict mediation and facilitation to help others facing similar issues.
Advisory group: Youth advise on the operations of the service area's initiatives and provide insight and perspectives to ensure effectiveness of programs and plans. Youth share their knowledge, skills and experience with those leading the initiative and with other committee members.
Peer educators: Youth facilitate workshops or discussion forums around relevant mental health topics.
Youth as evaluators: Young people help define a problem, develop the primary evaluation questions, establish goals and outcomes and analyze the results.
Youth as co-developers: Youth participate actively on implementation and evaluation teams, sharing decision-making, ownership and accountability.
Paid staff: Youth engagement is integrated into the agency’s structure and paid staff positions are available for youth.
Tips for recruitment:
- Build on existing networks. You may already have connections to key youth groups through your agency or your partnerships (e.g.: school, public health, police, etc.). Build on these networks to avoid starting from scratch.
- Recruit with youth. Young people are in the best position to reach out to their peers. Work with youth to co-create communication strategies and materials that are free of professional jargon and written in an engaging voice.
- Promote inclusivity. Reach out to marginalized groups, particularly those who may already experience social isolation, including LGBTTQ groups, disability groups, rural, racialized and newcomer groups, as well as First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations.
- Consider barriers. What might prevent someone from getting involved? Possible barriers include but are not limited to language, geography, living situations, other commitments like school or work, stigma, etc. Think about how can you overcome these barriers to ensure opportunities for all youth.
- Develop a communications plan. Communication strategies will be crucial for reaching out to different populations, to build buy-in and to provide young people with the information and support they’ll need to participate meaningfully.
- Plan for sustainability. The lives of young people are often in a state of transition. Youth may take on new jobs, change schools, explore new interests and more. Prepare for turnover in youth participants and create a variety of opportunities that youth can move in and out of depending on their interests and skill level. Developing a succession plan with youth is a proactive way to help them identify their goals and aspirations and provide them with opportunities to grow. While this requires an investment from the agency, building the skills and knowledge of young people prepares them for new levels of involvement in your agency and provides them with life skills that will enhance their ability to actively contribute to the community over time.
When it comes to recruitment, the following eight characteristics should be considered: STAY FLEXIVOL 1:
FLEXIBILITY: Young people seek choice - provide opportunities after school, on weekends or during school holidays.
LEGITIMACY: Provide information about the full range of opportunities available and explain their significance - young people want to know how they are making a difference.
EASE OF ACCESS: Provide the youth with information about your agency, their potential role and what supports will be in place to assist them.
EXPERIENCE: Explain to youth what skills they will gain by working with your agency and how these skills can be transferred to employment settings in the future.
INCENTIVES: Offer tangible rewards for the work that youth do (appreciation events, meals/snacks, free transportation, etc.).
VARIETY: Offer opportunities for youth to learn about new things and access opportunities that complement their personal goals.
ORGANIZATION: Young people want to work in an environment that’s efficient (i.e. where things get done), yet relaxing (i.e. where they can be themselves).
LAUGHS: Youth are looking for experiences that are enjoyable, satisfying and fun.
Initiating and sustaining factors
Initiating factors are the reasons why youth become involved in the first place. Sustaining factors are the reasons that youth stay engaged in a program. Understanding initiating and sustaining factors as well as the barriers to engagement will help you develop a thoughtful recruitment strategy so that youth, adults, the agency and community can benefit from youth engagement. To learn more about initiaters and sustainers, watch the video below by the Joint Consortium for School Health.
The Students Commission of Canada aims to help young people put their ideas for improving themselves, their communities and their world into action. Read about their Process of Youth Engagement Model.
- 1. Lukka, 2000