For over 30 years, Common Wealth Development (CWD) has been equipping Madison and Dane County youth for the workforce through our award-winning youth programs. Our foundational workforce development initiative, the Youth-Business Mentoring Program (YBMP), serves nearly 100 youth annually across the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). Since 1991, CWD has supported over 9,000 low-income youth with critical employment and money management skills, career exploration, and information about higher education while providing access to employment and earned income.  
Through the YBMP, students undergo a two-week training at their respective MMSD high school. Our Youth Workforce Development staff facilitates training for youth to learn about themselves and their goals, prepare their workforce skills, and develop a deeper understanding of the myriad political and economic systems they will navigate throughout their lives and careers. The curriculum includes networking logistics, mastering first impressions, interviewing, learning financial foundations, career planning, communicating professionally, developing resumes and job applications, and more. Scholars in this program work individually and collectively to hone their skills with an adult mentor’s supportive guidance.  

CWD is dedicated to offering consistent mentorship and financial education to area youth, helping to integrate these skills into their broader life experiences while meeting students where they are in their employment journey. CWD staff mentors, adept in culturally responsive and trauma-informed practices, guide students while working to enhance their academic and professional pursuits. Recognizing the importance of stable relationships, CWD invests in the continued professional development and long-term growth of our staff to maintain this vital connection. The program provides a unique approach to mentoring as students have various ranges of workforce exposure.

“Students join YBMP with a wide range of job experience or inexperience,” says CWD Youth Employment Coordinator Jaley Bruursema. “Due to this dynamic, students learn from each other, and staff customize the program’s mentorship piece to their specific needs.” This synergistic approach supports youth growth and development, providing a structured pathway for their workforce and academic progress anchored by the guidance of a trusted and trained adult mentor.  

CWD also collaborates with community partners to further immerse students in the realities of the workforce. Students experience the reality of day-to-day work through partner Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream and by building foundational financial habits from partner Summit Credit Union. During fall program sessions, students visit Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream locations, where they learn about customer service and practice their skills by scooping ice cream for customers. Summit Credit Union staff present students information about financial literacy, specifically banking, credit, various fees, and potential scams. Both practical job training and financial literacy equip participants to excel in the workforce.

In 2023, our Youth Workforce Development team led eight sessions of YBMP across MMSD high schools and introduced three summer community-based sessions. A notable enhancement in the 2023-2024 academic year was the introduction of a $100 completion stipend for the two-week training. This strategic move aligns with CWD’s commitment to best practices, valuing the participants’ investments in their own skill development. Additionally, students who complete YBMP and begin working are automatically enrolled in the MMSD Experiential Learning Program, through which they earn elective school credits for hours worked at their part-time employment. The impact of YBMP in 2023 was profound; 97 percent successfully completed the training portion with CWD staff aiding them in securing jobs at varied employment opportunities, including The Children’s Museum, Madison School and Community Recreation, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, Potter’s Crackers, and Breese Stevens Field.

YBMP is designed to continue to confront and combat the disparities present for youth in Madison, prioritizing Black and brown youth who are disproportionately affected by the systemic inequities. The program’s reach and relevance are reflected in the recent demographics of YBMP participants: 88 percent identifying as non-white, 65 percent coming from low-income households, 36 percent having had contact with the juvenile justice system, and over half residing in under-resourced neighborhoods. With program demand surging, CWD received 157 applications for the 52 available program slots in 2023, signaling the program’s vital role in bridging opportunity gaps while creating equitable employment pathways.  

The long-term impacts that YBMP can have on a young person’s development can be seen in CWD’s Youth Workforce staff, as former participants now work in the Youth Workforce Development team. Past YBMP participant and current full-time CWD employee Taylor Jones shares the impact of YBMP on her professional journey. “YBMP truly gave me an opportunity to feel prepared going into the workforce. By the end of the program, I felt confident and had a new outlook on the opportunities available to me. I’m so thankful to have participated in YBMP, and I’m so glad this program is available to youth and gives them opportunities that are accessible to their needs. Common Wealth is truly making changes in the community and transforming our youth’s lives.”

As a Youth Employment Specialist who will facilitate YBMP sessions, Taylor adds, “I take a lot of the skills with me that I learned from Common Wealth—skills that I don’t think I would’ve had if I didn’t complete YBMP.” Taylor’s story is a true testament to YBMP’s impact on participants and how it can propel their workforce journey.

With the combination of career exploration and informed goal setting, financial management techniques, and a toolbox of workforce skills, students emerge with secured employment and continued mentorship from CWD staff. The large applicant pool signals the demand and importance for this program in Madison. While collaborating with community partners for on-the-job training, CWD provides students faced with systematic inequities equitable opportunities for employment. This work is vital to preparing the next generation of not only the Madison workforce, but also future Madison leaders.

Valerie Holt is the executive administrative assistant at Common Wealth Development.

Photographs provided by Common Wealth Development.

For further information about CWD’s Youth-Business Mentoring Program, please visit