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PEPNet FAQ: What is PEPNet?


PEPNet, the Promising and Effective Practices Network, is a system for enhancing the quality of programs that link young people to work and education to promote a successful transition to adulthood. By "young people," PEPNet means youth anywhere from ages 12-25. PEPNet is comprised of pieces that work together: the PEPNet Standards are the goals for programs to aim towards; the PEPNet Tools are resources and supports to help achieve these goals and the PEPNet People are the network of nationally-recognized programs and other professionals who share practical strategies, examples and lessons about successful efforts with youth.


PEPNet provides the most up-to-date information from research and the field about what works in youth programming; organizes that information into a practical framework and offers user-friendly tools to help programs implement quality practices, measure and document results and develop strategies for continuous improvement.


PEPNet is a project of the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC), a membership network that improves the effectiveness of organizations that seek to help youth become productive citizens. Toward this end, NYEC sets and promotes quality standards; tracks, crafts and influences policy; provides and supports professional development and builds the capacity of organizations and programs. NYEC's over 250 members represent a broad range of organizations, including direct service providers, public agencies, associations with networks of affiliates, research and policy groups and technical assistance providers.



The PEPNet system was developed in the mid-1990s by practitioners, researchers and policy makers to capture what was known to work in programs that linked youth to employment and education to promote successful transition to adulthood.


The need for a system like PEPNet became apparent to NYEC after the 1993 release of the national Job Training Partnership Act (U.S. federal workforce legislation, known as "JTPA" evaluation, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor. The study found that out-of-school males who participated in JTPA youth employment programs did not benefit as compared to a control group, measured by employment rates and earnings. This study and others contributed to a widespread sense that "nothing worked" in these programs. As a result the Department of Labor requested a funding reduction and the U.S. Congress approved a massive cut (80%) to the JTPA year-round youth employment program. The National Youth Employment Coalition's members were concerned. They knew that many programs did indeed make a difference for youth; but they realized that youth professionals had not defined what they knew worked, or set any standards that could distinguish quality efforts. NYEC approached the Department of Labor for funding to bring professionals together to tackle the issue.


In August 1995 NYEC convened 40 experienced practitioners, researchers, policy makers, funders and other stakeholders to address the question: "What DO we know works, from research and from practical experience" The attendees spent the next few days listing the key elements they knew were critical to quality programs, from their on-the-ground experience in programs and their knowledge of the relevant research. Then the group worked with NYEC over the next six months NYEC to cull those lists and other information into a streamlined framework: the PEPNet Criteria for Effective Practices. NYEC also incorporated lessons from the "quality movement" in business management into the Criteria. NYEC developed a PEPNet Self Assessment tool that programs could use to determine how they met the Criteria and where they needed to improve. In addition, NYEC created a detailed peer review process through which programs could apply to be recognized for meeting PEPNet's Criteria. NYEC held the first PEPNet Awards ceremony at the U.S. Department of Labor in 1996. Over the years, NYEC augmented the original framework with new research and with practices from PEPNet Awarded programs. NYEC developed a range of tools and information to share the Criteria and  practices. In 2001, NYEC initiated the PEPNet Improvement Process for Programs, a continuous improvement cycle for program development.


In the last ten years, thousands of youth professionals around the U.S. and internationally have used PEPNet. PEPNet has led a movement to increase quality of youth programming; has raised the visibility of successful youth employment programs and has influenced policies, including the federal Workforce Investment Act, to reflect what works for youth. PEPNet established the fundamental link between youth development and youth employment and created a tremendous knowledge base about what works. By promoting high standards and quality practices, PEPNet raised the bar on performance and enabled youth-related organizations to maximize their resources by focusing on what had been proven to work.


In 2005, an enhanced PEPNet debuts that is based on the original PEPNet principles but encapsulates 10 years of additional program practice, research and lessons learned from the fields of youth development, workforce development and education.



In the context of PEPNet, "quality" means having a high degree of excellence, making an organization more likely to succeed. A "standard" is an element that defines quality: if an organization meets a standard, it has quality in the area the standard covers. As PEPNet neared its tenth anniversary, NYEC undertook a "PEPNet Enhancement Project." Professionals around the U.S. and abroad were using PEPNet and providing very positive responses to its resources. However, NYEC wanted to consider directions for the future that would make PEPNet even more useful. A group of 45 practitioners, researchers, policy makers and funders from around the country worked with NYEC to advise improvements to PEPNet, including enhanced standards, new tools and more supports for organizations using the information.


To update the criteria into a set of even stronger standards, NYEC conducted an extensive literature review on what young people need to know and be able to do, as well as a review of empirical studies on youth programs and practices that have been effective in helping young people achieve positive outcomes. To ensure that the new standards and related tools would continue to be useful to those running programs for youth, NYEC incorporated feedback from surveys and focus groups of practitioners, as well as tests conducted with programs around the country. PEPNet's standards not only reflect ten years of use and information, they capture the most up-to-date knowledge about what works. The materials are intended to be practical and easy to use.


PEPNet identified four key areas that are common to successful programs. Quality programs have strong management; take a comprehensive approach to working with youth; focus on building competencies that will help youth succeed in education and work and measure the success they have with youth. PEPNet organizes these areas into four "categories," each with a number of standards. Generally, the more standards a program meets, the more likely it is to have consistent success with young people.


Category 1: Management for Quality addresses standards for program management: the foundation for program direction, systems and operations.


Category 2: Programmatic Approach addresses standards for program design: how the program looks, how the young person experiences the program, how the pieces work together.


Category 3: Youth Development Competencies addresses standards for program offerings: what youth need to know and be able to do to successfully transition to work and adulthood and how to help them gain those skills, knowledge and abilities.


Category 4: Focus on Youth Results addresses standards for performance measurement: measuring, documenting and reporting youth outcomes and progress towards those outcomes. It explains why it makes sense to measure results; what to measure; who to measure; when to measure; and how to measure, in ways accepted by researchers and policy makers.





Category 1: Management for Quality

High performing organizations, whether in the private, public or non-profit sector, share a number of common characteristics. These include: having a clear direction and mission; focusing on customers (in this case, on youth); hiring and keeping skilled, energetic and entrepreneurial leaders; hiring, developing and valuing skilled and motivated staff; establishing efficient work systems that support planning, review, analysis, accountability and quality assurance; making decisions based on facts; focusing on results and continuously examining and seeking to improve the organization.


Category 2: Programmatic Approach

The NYEC research review of youth programs identified several common practices that are relevant to the overall design of a quality program. These include: providing comprehensive services and supports; tailoring services to the individual; encouraging intensive participation; incorporating appropriate motivational strategies; providing a safe and structured environment; communicating high expectations and respect for youth; involving youth in their own learning and providing consistent and long-term, one-on-one case management and support. Additionally, field research and professional consensus call for significant connections with employers, collaboration with local organizations and agencies and support and follow-up as participants move from the program to other positive activities. The standards in Programmatic Approach address all of these practices.


Category 3: Youth Development Competencies

Programs are most successful if they do not just focus on one area of a young person's development, such as work. Rather, they help youth build the range of "competencies" -- skills, knowledge or abilities -- that enable youth to successfully transition to adulthood. What are these competencies? From its review of youth development research, NYEC found that youth need to develop competencies in five areas: working, academic learning, connecting, leading and thriving. Quality programs intentionally help youth build competencies in each of these areas, but specific activities will depend on the particular program's purpose and target youth. Most programs cannot provide activities in all competency areas, but they can develop partnership and referral relationships with complementary organizations. Research shows that gaining additional competencies is associated with increased well-being for youth.


Category 4: Focus on Youth Results

Certainly, a critical element of quality programs is that they achieve positive results with youth. This sounds simple. But showing results -- changes in knowledge or behavior in a participant during or after the program -- tends to be the biggest challenge for youth programs, as it is for other social service programs.


As part of the PEPNet Enhancement Project, NYEC sought to identify a common set of participant outcomes for youth programs and to identify benchmarks (comparative data from similar initiatives) programs could use to demonstrate impact. NYEC convened a group of program practitioners, policy makers and researchers from prominent national research and evaluation institutions. This "Evidence of Success" advisory group created a framework of common outcomes it considered to be essential for all programs preparing young people for transition to adulthood and the world of work.



When NYEC looked at the latest research and practice during the PEPNet Enhancement Project, we were pleased to discover that the content was fairly similar to PEPNet's existing framework. So readers familiar with PEPNet will recognize much of the content, but otherwise will note several differences.


The new PEPNet streamlines the previous five categories to four categories, addressing management, program design, youth development competencies and measuring youth results.

These four categories better reflect the structure of most youth programs.


There is a shift from looking at specific activities to focusing on the purpose of those activities or what competencies -- skills, knowledge and abilities -- a program is helping its participants develop.


Each standard includes at least one key indicator that the standard is being addressed. These indicators are how a program can tell it is meeting the standard and capture the questions previously located in the Self Assessment.


Selected examples of how the standards work in practice, drawn from programs that PEPNet has recognized for quality, are included in the written descriptions of the standards in this book. (PEPNet's Online Index to Quality Practices houses even more examples.)


The biggest content change appears in the final category, Focus on Youth Results. The PEPNet "Evidence of Success" advisory group of researchers, practitioners and policy makers identified nine PEPNet outcomes they considered to be essential for all programs preparing young people for transition to adulthood and the world of work. So that programs with federal funding would not need to duplicate reporting, the group aligned PEPNet's outcomes with the Common Performance Measures developed by the U.S. federal government for youth workforce development programs. Both PEPNet's outcomes and the Common Measures address skills, academic and credential attainments, as well as engagement in employment and post-secondary education/training. The advisory group also included a series of "Progress Measures," which, as the term implies, measure progress towards achieving outcomes. Programs may select which outcomes and progress measures to document based on their youth population and activities.


Aside from these differences, most of the Standards content will be familiar. If an organization has been using the earlier PEPNet framework for program improvement, that work can be easily transferred to these Standards. A crosswalk of the last PEPNet Criteria to the enhanced Standards is available on the web.


The new PEPNet tools have been significantly enhanced with online capabilities, enabling users to generate reports, plan and implement improvements, assess results, search for quality practices by a variety of variables and more. For more information, see the detail on PEPNet's resources below.




It's important to remember that PEPNet is a system with several pieces that work together to help increase the quality of youth programming. The Standards are the elements that define quality -- what users are aiming for. The PEPNet tools offer various supports to achieve that end, from resources on specific topics to professional development opportunities to assessments and improvement action planning to recognition/accreditation.


Reference Books

Professional Development

  • PEPNet Institute
    Inspiring yet practical, the annual PEPNet Institute is the premier conference for innovative youth programming. Attendees participate in interactive workshops, learn a wealth of quality practices culled from research and field-based practice and share their own knowledge and expertise to assist others in their work. Because the event attracts a diverse mix of professionals from across the nation, including practitioners, state and local policy makers, researchers and Workforce Investment Act (WIA) representatives, among others, it provides a forum for learning and networking unrivaled in the .elds of youth workforce development, youth development and education.

Knowledge Base

  • Searchable Online Index to Quality Practices
    The Index to Quality Practices includes over 1000 specific quality practices identified from 66 nationally recognized (PEPNet Awarded) youth programs and organized by the PEPNet Quality Standards. The Index makes it possible for users to search for information by a specific PEPNet Quality Standard or indicator, practice (examples include follow-up, staff development, youth leadership and employer engagement), youth population served (including urban or rural), program funding stream, organization or any keyword the user chooses.
  • PEPNet Awardee Profiles
    The PEPNet Awardee profiles are in-depth descriptions of the structure and practices of the 66 programs that received the PEPNet Award for quality practices between 1999 and 2003. These online profiles include contact information, a brief description of the program and its background, mission, funding sources and target population. Each profile also contains examples of the program's quality practices. The practices in the profiles are linked to the Index to Quality Practices (see above) and searchable by specific standard, indicator or key word.



  • Quality Self Assessment
    This online tool enables multiple program staff and other stakeholders to complete the PEPNet Quality Self Assessment electronically. Each user rates the program on how well it currently satisfies each of the PEPNet Standards and respective indicators. The tool combines the individual assessment responses into a cumulative report of all responses. Once programs review their reports, they can select "areas for improvement" -- specific indicators or standards where respondents rated the program lowest. These "areas for improvement" are transferred automatically into the Improvement Action Planning Tool (For more details, see Improvement Action Planning tool below). A hard copy version of the Quality Self Assessment is available by request to organizations without internet access (cumulative reporting features available online only).
  • Results Assessment (with benchmarks)
    The Results Assessment captures and organizes youth performance data, allowing programs to compare actual performance with program goals as well as with the performance of programs around the country. This online tool walks users through selection of the outcomes and progress measures their program is currently tracking and prompts them to enter the corresponding performance data. From that information, the tool generates a results analysis report with numerical information and descriptive text about the program's results. For select PEPNet outcomes, the tool also provides benchmarks comparing the program to a national group of programs serving youth of similar populations in similar localities. Users will be able to mark specific results as "areas for improvement" that will automatically be transferred to the program's Improvement Action Planning Tool (For more details, see Improvement Action Planning Tool below).


Program Improvement

  • Improvement Action Planning Tool
    This online tool enables the user to review "areas for improvement" already identified through the Self Assessment or Results Assessment tools described above. The user can then translate the "areas for improvement" into improvement goals and create an action plan for each goal. The tool walks the user through prioritizing areas for improvement, analyzing problems or situations, setting specific goals, identifying strategies to achieve goals, and defining action steps for goal attainment. The tool also prompts users to develop a timeline and indicate persons responsible and resources needed for goal attainment. Once users create one or more action plans, they can revisit the plan(s) at any time to review or edit the plan, record actions taken and eventually mark the goal as completed.  Then, the organization may use the tool again to tackle another goal.
  • Connections for Quality Improvement
    Professionals may contact the awarded programs profiled on PEPNet's web site at any time for further information on their work. In addition, at the annual PEPNet Institute, participants network with several hundred practitioners, funders, policy makers and other youth professionals to share strategies and ideas on what works in programming for youth. Also, Institute attendees who have used PEPNet's tools provide insight on how PEPNet can assist youth professionals in their work.

PEPNet Status

  • Opportunities for PEPNet Status and for future Recognition/ Accreditation
    Programs that complete the Quality Self Assessment and Results Assessment Tools and develop an Improvement Action Plan can register to be recognized as a national "PEPNet Builder" by completing a brief form and questionnaire on the PEPNet website. The PEPNet Builder status recognizes Programs for their dedication to self assessment, program improvement and quality practices. Programs are encouraged to highlight their Builder status in communications with funders and other stakeholders to underscore their commitment to quality programming. 

    The national PEPNet award for quality practice, started in 1996 with support from the U.S. Department of Labor, has been on hiatus since fall 2003 while NYEC has worked on the PEPNet Enhancement Project. NYEC plans to develop a new recognition or accreditation process and is currently investigating different award and accreditation models and review techniques. NYEC is seeking funding to launch a new recognition process in the future.


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