We want youth to thrive in careers that lead to self-sufficiency

Youth Economic Opportunity for Seattle Mayor's Office

Seattle's economy is growing, but local youth are not currently ready to compete for the middle-wage and high-wage job openings that are coming. Too many of Seattle’s youth exit school unprepared to complete for the jobs that lead to better pay and upward mobility.

Mayor Durkan's administration wants to find ways to connect youth with good jobs by creating a citywide strategy for youth, economic opportunity, and the future of work.


To scope our project, we created a research plan and carried out literature reviews and landscape analyses. We conducted organizational research by interviewing directors and staff from departments that serve young people.

I designed ethnographic research activities to understand the perspectives of young people and their parents. Research activities included hour-long scheduled interviews as well as pop-up photo booths. The photo booths elicited interest from people passing by, who–in exchange for a short interview–would receive a free photo for professional or personal use.

These interviews were recorded and transcribed and we used a variety of different frameworks to synthesize and make sense of the data.

In ten weeks, we were able to talk to over a hundred young people, parents, and employers.

Pop-up photo booth near Seattle Central Youth quote Youth interviews


Our target audience for this project is the Mayor's Policy Office and city departments that serve youth and young adults. Our key client group includes department directors and their representatives. We meet bi-weekly to share progress.

Staff work group using HCD tools to review data

My team also participates in a weekly working group of the Mayor's Future of Work Subcabinet. I design and facilitate activities to have staff learn human-centered design tools and have the opportunity to contribute their own observations and insights.

Worksheets from data synthesis work session


Our research generated hundreds of data points and dozens of themes. Ultimately we ended up with 20 insights.

Spreadsheet of insights, themes, and data points

Example Insight

Leveraging social connections can compensate for the lack of experience or credentials that make it hard for young people to get a job, but not everyone has access to contacts that can help them. This is an acute problem for communities where adults are underrepresented in higher wage jobs.

“I applied to so many places. I couldn't really get a job. Then my dad... they knew an interpreter that they had from the doctor appointments and they told their interpreter and the interpreter found me a job. That person found me a job at a restaurant. That person, they didn't know me, right? [...] It's really hard nowadays to get a job without connections. It's almost impossible. That is from my experience.”
– Male (Age 24)
“When I go to shows or food events, I make sure that I talk to people so that I can build connections. Which can be really stressful because I used to be afraid of talking to people. [...] It's really important to help yourself develop those skills so even practicing talking in the mirror or writing note cards. [...] I was the president of the Black Student Union for two years. I made it to swim captain. [...] Through that random people would get my email and be like, ‘Hey, I know you're the leader of this club, help us out.’ I was like, I don't know who you are. But just trying to get out there is beneficial because the worst that can happen is you don't make the connection, but it's better to know than not.”
– Female (Age 18)

Q: Have you started to think about what you need to get your dream job?

“I have the resources for it, it's just a matter of the people to work with. [...] I know that jobs like that exist and they are out here somewhere, but I don't feel like I have direct connection there. There's not enough programs for me to get in connection with people that are doing things like that. Because I want to know how they got up and running and where they applied and what internships they did. [...] A barrier is the lack of privilege in the people that I know. Because who I know is solely based on my community and on my people. I'm not necessarily in connection with too many other communities and different groups of people.”
– Female (Age 19)

Design Solution

Our deliverable for this research phase of this project is an interactive report of all our findings including qualitative research, quantitative analyses, and supporting secondary research.


Through our research, city staff–including department directors and policy advisors–cultivated a deeper understanding of youth and young adult experiences and how to better support their needs on their journey to careers. Our work took a human-centered approach to shift the conversation towards designing ideas, policies and initiatives to address our young residents’ strengths and needs.

The Future of Work Subcabinet adopted ‘Youth-Centered’ as one of their values stating that we must, “Prioritize youth in the process, not for their stamp of approval, but for collaboration on ideas. Youth know what they want and need better than we do, so they have the best insights to achieving our mission and goals.”

The insights generated from our research will be used to inform a series of internal and public ideation workshops in August and September to identify opportunities to create or improve policies, programs, and services. This work will ultimately contribute to informing Mayor Durkan's portfolio of youth initiatives.

Photos by Olli Tumelius

Youth: Tessa
Youth: Hassan
Youth: Eli
Youth: Ethan
Youth: Herman
Youth: Evely
Youth: Claire
Youth: Ali