The Social and Labor Market Integration of At-Risk Youth. ERIC Digest. 

by Lord, Diane - And Others

Social and labor market integration represents a considerable challenge for youth in general and an even greater challenge for at-risk youth. Indeed, youth who have experienced numerous difficulties in personal and social development encounter significant obstacles integrating themselves into society and into the labor market. Ouellette and Doucet (1991) observed that the personal, social, educational, and vocational characteristics of at-risk youth resembled traits in individuals exhibiting weak personal and vocational identities which could contribute to integration difficulties of at-risk youth. This led to the development of a model of the factors contributing to social and labor market integration and a program to develop personal and vocational identity.


Our model of social and labor market integration consists of three main dimensions: 

1. Psychovocational dimension: This is the heart of the model and consists primarily of: personal identity - Erikson's (1980) first six stages (trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, and intimacy); vocational identity - Havighurst's (1964) first four stages (identification with a worker, development of basic work habits, development of an identity as a worker, and becoming a productive person). 

2. Sociopsychological dimension: It subsumes the psychovocational dimension and consists of family, peers, school, work, and media networks. 

3. Sociological dimension: It subsumes the sociopsychological dimension and consists of economic, political, cultural, geographic, and demographic factors (Allard & Ouellette, in press).

The model was verified, via focus-group interviews, by professionals working with at-risk youth, by employers who employ these youth, and by individual interviews with a sample of at-risk youth (Allard & Ouellette, 1994).


Development and Description

The program helps at-risk youth acquire knowledge, attitudes, and skills which lead to the development of positive, personal, and vocational identities, and which foster a social and labor market integration perspective. The program, entitled "Programme de developpement de l'identite personnelle et professionnelle" (Program for the Development of Personal Identity and Vocational Identity), consists of the following: 

*The Info-Guide - a brief overview of the program. 

*Volume I - "Identite personnelle" (Personal Identity) - an introduction and six modules pertaining to personal identity. 

*Volume II - "Identite professionnelle" (Vocational Identity) - four modules on vocational identity and one aimed at post-program transition.

The 12 modules are divided into 59 sub-modules and 98 experiential learning activities. The program is offered over a period of 15 weeks, 3 of which offer work experiences in the community. Individual interviews and visits to institutions and industries complete the program. Three examples of activities drawn from the program are presented below: 

1. I Affirm my Individuality before the Group (from Module 6: Identity). Participants identify five personal characteristics which differentiate them from others and which are not well-known by other group members. Participants then rank their characteristics according to the degree of difficulty in sharing them with the group. Participants then share their characteristics with the group. Group members may or may not participate on any given turn. Participants conclude the activity by sharing feelings and reactions concerning the inability to identify and express individuality. 

2. My Self-image as a Future Worker (from Module 10: Identity as Worker). Participants are invited to see themselves as future workers during a counselor-guided visualization. Group members then depict their image of self-as-future-worker in a drawing or collage. Finally, they compare their current image of self-as-worker (which they prepared in a previous activity) to their image of self-as-future-worker. 

3. A Look Towards the Horizon (from Module 12: Integration and Transition). In this activity, participants identify their feelings about what awaits them at the conclusion of the program by drawing facial expressions and by writing words on a poster. This sharing of feelings allows participants to realize that people react differently to anticipated situations and circumstances.

Experimentation and Evaluation

The program was used with 16-19 year old at-risk youth and with 19-24 year olds who were experiencing significant difficulties with social and labor market integration. There were two pilot tests to obtain reactions to and evaluation of each of the experiential learning activities in the program. Following each field trial, investigators modified the program to address areas of concern. This led to a second version of the program, which was used in a controlled outcome study involving two no-treatment control groups and two experimental groups. The results and feedback from this last evaluation led to the programs final version.

Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected to address the level of participation during the activities, participant retention, general knowledge on the components experienced, personal identity, vocational identity, and general comments concerning the program's content and process. Overall, the results indicate that the program has merit for use with at-risk youth (Ouellette & Doucet, 1993, 1994). Participants who complete the program improve their personal and vocational identities. The combined effects of what is learned both in the modules and the practical experiences in a work setting allow participants to identify personal and vocational goals and, consequently, to prepare for some of the realities of life and work. Some participant comments upon completion of the program attest to its effectiveness: 

*"The program made it possible for me to find a job. I became the first person in three generations in my family to get off welfare." 

*"Sometimes, we feel like dropping everything ..... especially studies. But while following this program, I became aware of the fact that I have to complete high school. And that's what I'll do ... go all the way to get my diploma." 

*"This program provided me with a lot of encouragement and really built up my self-confidence. I know now that I have a place in society if I forge ahead and realize my goals and my dreams."


The program had some limitations. Youth experiencing serious personal difficulties, which require therapy, were not successful in the program. However, the program was never intended as a group therapy program. Also, for the program to succeed counselors had to possess certain knowledge, skills, and attitudes. To meet this requirement, a training course was prepared covering the following content: characteristics and environments of at-risk youth, difficulties encountered by these youth in their integration attempt; realities of the labor market; Erikson's conception of personal identity; Havighurst's conception of vocational identity; the content and structure of the program; participant selection criteria and modalities for program delivery; attitudes, beliefs, and skills essential for counselors working with at-risk youth; experiential pedagogy; crisis intervention skills, a review of group work; and individual and group counseling skills.


This project made it possible to understand better the complexity of social and labor market integration of at-risk youth in New Brunswick. The multitude of personal and external obstacles encountered by these youth led to a program which heightened personal and vocational identities and thus enhanced participants' chances for successful integration. An extensive evaluation of the program confirmed its merits and its pertinence for at-risk youth.


Allard, R., & Ouellette, J-G. (1994). "Profil descriptif d'une clientele de jeunes a risque." Education et francophonie, 22(1), 17-24.

Allard, R., & Ouellette, J.-G. (in press). "Vers un modele macroscopique des facteurs determinants de l'insertion socioprofessionnelle des jeunes." Revue de carrierologie.

Erikson, E. (1980). "Identity and life cycle: a reissue." New York: Norton.

Havighurst, R. J. (1964). "Youth in exploration and man emergent." In H. Borow (Ed.), Man in a world at work (pp. 215-236). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Ouellette, J-G., & Doucet, L. H. (1991). "Integration des jeunes a risque au marche du travail par l'acquisition d'une identite personnelle et professionnelle positive." In M. Monette, S. Rapagna, & W. Talley (Eds.), Actes du XIVe Congres mondial de l'Association internationale d'orientation scolaire et professionnelle (pp. 98-110). Montreal, QC: Servi-Litho.

Ouellette, J-G., & Doucet, L. H. (1993). "Resultats sommaires de la preexperimentation d'un programme de developpement de l'identite personnelle et professionnelle aupres des jeunes a risque." In M. V. Norman (Ed.), Les Actes du Conat - 19e Colloque national touchant le developpement professionnel (pp. 166-179). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto, Career Centre.

Ouellette, J-G., & Doucet, L. H. (1994). "Un programme d'intervention aupres de Jjunes a risque: resultats d'une preexperimentation." Education et francophonie, 22(1), 25-31.

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