West Kentucky agency helping Christian Co. high school students prepare for jobs or college after graduation; program includes mentoring, teaching soft skills; waiting list of students indicates popularity
Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville, July 14, 2017

Program seeks to give youth a boost in the job market

By TONYA S. GRACE

One local program is working to help youth transition successfully into the workforce once they complete their education and job training, and the program has experienced a measure of success.

During the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which just ended, 91.67 percent of Hopkinsville Community College students taking part in the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act Youth Programs went on to get a job or continue their education, noted Juliet Allen, workforce programs coordinator with the West Kentucky Workforce Board.

Additionally, 93.55 percent of Christian County Public Schools youth taking part in the same program went on to college or a job, and 75 percent of youth CNA participants at Madisonville Community College are now pursuing careers in health care after completing the program.

Allen said officials want to ensure that youth taking part in the programs at individual schools are not only getting a job, but a good job.

“It’s setting them up for a high-quality career path to be successful in life,” said Allen, noting that the workforce program provides opportunities like mentoring and leadership development and teaches youth how to dress and act appropriately, for example, and how to be respectful of co-workers.

The year-round program is open to youth at participating institutions who are income eligible.

Funding comes through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and in the fiscal year that began July 1, the program is available to 12th-graders at local public schools and at Hopkinsville and Madisonville community colleges.

Those three entities submitted proposals for the program, Allen said.

More than 100 youth from ages 16 to 24 are being served through the three programs, according to information from the workforce board.

The board also assists adults, dislocated workers and the military. Details are available online at wkworkforce.work or at wkworkforce.work/youth-services, specifically for youth.

Kelly Gates, a WIOA program specialist for the local school system, said that the board’s youth program teaches her students workforce skills, soft skills (i.e., leadership qualities, personal habits and management skills) and “anything they would need to help them be successful in a job and employment,” she said.

One thing Gates likes is how the program matches the youth with jobs that are in keeping with their career plans. She notes that youth are one of the hardest age groups to keep employed, in part because of their school schedules but also because they are younger than 18, which limits job opportunities.

Gates works with local companies to give the youth a job out in the community, and she said it helps them tremendously.

“You name a profession, and they’ve gone on to do that,” she said. “A lot will say it’s because of the soft skills and how they learned to be reliable and dependable.

She said the program is very popular and one that kids think is cool, but it’s also competitive and difficult to get into. For 2017-2018, she has 30 new youth, but Gates also has a waiting list of 150 youth interested in the program.

She’d like to see funds for the school system’s program grow.

“I would love not to have to say ‘no’ to any student,” Gates said.

The program with Christian County Public Schools is identified as an in-school youth program and received $125,000 in funding for the current fiscal year.

The community college programs are out of school programs.

HCC’s program received $117,684.20 in funds for the year, while the Madisonville school received $211,196.02 for the 2017-18 year.

Allen said the focus of all three programs is helping the youth become successful employees. Participants must get a diploma or a credential of some kind. They must go to college, get a job, get an apprenticeship or go into the military and must raise their basic skills, for example, reading and math scores.

Additionally, the Department of Labor checks at six-month and year intervals to see if the youth are still employed and whether they have gotten a wage increase during those same six-month and year intervals.

Allen notes that unemployment rates for youth are traditionally almost three times that of other people, and she said programs like hers are intended to ensure the youth are not forgotten and that they have the skills necessary to be a success.

“We have to make sure people who would traditionally drop out of the labor market are coming back to it,” she said.
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