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New Tools for Navigators

By Nicole Yohalem, Director, Road Map Project Opportunity Youth Initiative Jan. 9, 2014

Merriam-Webster defines navigation as the act or process of finding one’s way. A close cousin of mentoring, coaching and case-management, providing individuals with navigators who are focused on helping them “find their way” into and through complex systems and institutions has emerged as a promising practice across several fields including education, employment training and health care. Though what we call it is less important than the function itself, this convergence in language suggests experts are zeroing in on something fundamental to successful programs.

That positive, supportive relationships and empowerment are at the core of successful interventions will not surprise anyone who has worked in human services or education or has come across Maslow’s hierarchy in a psychology course somewhere along the way. We have known this kind of support is critical for a long time. What’s new is the development of concrete tools to support navigators, as well as increasing evidence that navigation support is effective, particularly in the context of postsecondary persistence.

For anyone involved in helping high-risk youth or adults pursue college and career goals, add these two reports to your tool kit:

SkillUp’s Guide and Tools for Navigators compiles lessons and tools developed through their College for Working Adults and Skill Link pilots. Navigation is an important component of both initiatives. The guide includes key functions and guiding principles for navigators and encourages adaptation and use of concrete tools that can help with things like assessing campus resources, identifying students’ career development needs, and documenting student progress and support services received.

The ABCs of College Navigation reflects the expertise of a regional peer learning group convened by Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) as well as lessons from their Career Pathways Program. The report defines and positions the importance of college navigation within the changing labor market and then organizes information and specific resources for navigators into six broad steps: preparation, program selection, enrollment, persistence and career planning.

I am excited that leaders from SkillUp Washington, SJI and Seattle Education Access, another organization with deep expertise in navigation, are participating in the Road Map Project’s new Opportunity Youth Work Group. As we develop a regional action plan, expanding and systematizing education and career navigation for opportunity youth is among the solutions we need to consider. Not surprisingly, when asked what contributed most to their own success, all three youth members of our work group mentioned support from a caring adult.

Finally, it is important to note that both of these resources grew out of partnerships between community-based organizations and community colleges. Though navigators can be housed in many different kinds of organizations, this coupling of expertise seems particularly powerful. If you agree, mark your calendars for SJI’s Community Colleges – Community-Based Organizations Conference on Innovations in Adult Training and Education taking place January 30 at South Seattle Community College.