Opinion

Opinion

Career Readiness Critical for Young People

School to Career Connecting Activities, a collaborative effort between public and private partnerships, is led by 16 local workforce-investment boards in Massachusetts, including the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (REB).  The initiative provides high-school students with paid internship opportunities in a wide array of occupations and industries, from which students gain exposure to real-world work opportunities and learn professionalism, responsibility, and job-readiness skills that help them become attached to the workforce in the future.

Recent national surveys of employers and human-resource managers have found increasing concerns with the employability and skill deficiencies of young workers.

In 2007, connecting activities leveraged more than $45 million in employer wages, putting more than 17,500 students in internships at 6,500 employer sites. In 2012 alone, with funding at only $2.75 million, more than 9,800 students were placed in internships at 3,500 employer sites. With funding in the state budget for fiscal year 2013 at only $750,000, the program is facing extreme challenges.

In Hampden County, we were able to put 658 students into internships with 258 area employers in various industries, including WGBY, Big Y, Baystate Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, Giggle Gardens, Holyoke Health Center, Polish National Credit Union, and many more.

The need for increased employment for the state’s teens is greater than in many years. According to a recent study by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, “in 2012, only 26% of the state’s teens found themselves able to obtain employment during an average month.” This was the lowest state teen-employment rate recorded over the past 50 years for which such data exists.  Fewer than one of seven low-income teens in high school in 2011 worked in Massachusetts.

The Center for Labor Market Studies has documented that those students who work during their senior year or in multiple summer jobs over their high-school years are more likely to transition into college or the labor market after graduation. The habits learned in the workplace, such as productivity, teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, management, and initiative, are paramount for the Commonwealth’s youth.

In Hampden County, the REB is working with 18 different schools through four lead school-to-career connecting-activities coordinators, who assist students and the school’s career facilitators to secure employment and optimize learning through internship opportunities. With the decreases in funding since 2007, we unfortunately cannot serve all the students who could benefit from an internship.

Student experiences speak for themselves. At Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, two youths who participated in the School to Career Connecting Activities Program had plenty to say about their experiences.

A senior named Hannah, who placed at the town’s Engineering Department, said, “I loved my experience. It was a great way to learn about your intended college major [Civil Engineering]. I learned what was like to work in an office and how to use office equipment. I gained a lot of skills working on the computers with different programs. I learned how to interact with customers and employees. I learned how to be more observant and make certain connections. I learned that it is OK to take risks and be wrong and how to voice my opinion and not hide my ideas.

Meanwhile, a senior named Matthew, who placed at FloDesign, an innovative business incubator that specializes in contract engineering and technology commercialization, noted that “my goal of learning about the field and solidifying my decision on becoming an engineer has been met. By working on various projects and doing things actual engineers do, I have learned more than enough to be sure that this is the type of career I am looking for. ”

School to Career Connecting Activities staff are dedicated to providing opportunities for youth to develop their career skills while in school. The investment by the state Legislature in expanding these career-building tools and experience for its youth will help strengthen future employment opportunities for the young people of Massachusetts. This is not only an investment in the students themselves, but also in the Commonwealth’s future workforce and its economic growth potential.

For more information, contact Bill Ward, REB president and CEO, at (413) 787-1547.

 

Joseph Peters is chair of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Andrew Sum is director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

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