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Employment Special Coverage

Work in Progress

 

Since its inception, the SummerWorks program administered by the Commonwealth Corp. has opened doors for young people and introduced them to the world of work. This year, as the program expands to include individuals ages 22-25, it is primed to open more doors — and potentially create more opportunities, for employees and employers alike.

By Kaily Houle

 

David Cruise is more than familiar with the vast potential of Hampden County’s young people and their importance to the region’s business community.

As the president and CEO of MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, he administers a program called YouthWorks, a state-funded summer-employment program that helps teens and young adults gain the skills and experience needed to not only find and keep jobs, but to begin to design a path toward success.

He’s watched over the years as the program has helped introduce young people to the world of work while also assisting area cities, towns, non-profits, and for-profit businesses with finding needed help and, sometimes, long-term employees.

And this year, he’s anticipating that he’ll see more of all of the above.

Indeed, program administrators are expanding the age parameters of YouthWorks in order to reach a broader range of young adults in the region. Initially, the program was offered to people ages 14 to 21, but now young adults from 22 to 25 are able to participate as well. The mindset behind this expansion of the program is to help more people enter or return into the workforce by providing them with jobs, leadership development and career-exploration opportunities, and various skills training.

“The intent is to take young people, primarily those that live in high-risk, urban areas like Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee, Westfield, and provide them with the opportunity of a structured work experience that usually lasts five to six weeks.”

“The intent is to take young people, primarily those that live in high-risk, urban areas like Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee, Westfield, and provide them with the opportunity of a structured work experience that usually lasts five to six weeks,” Cruise told BusinessWest, adding that the young people participating are not the only ones who stand to benefit.

Those hiring these individuals benefit as well, he said, adding that this is true at any time, but especially when businesses in every sector of the economy are struggling to find enough help to function at full capacity.

The YouthWorks program will see a boost in funding this year, from $2.5 to $3.17 million — enough to fund more than 700 summer jobs and another 130 evening and weekend jobs during the school year. These initiatives are aimed at getting young adults back into the workforce. Because some of these youth, especially those between the ages of 18 and 25, were displaced from the workforce — either by being disconnected from school or working — YouthWorks gives them the opportunity to find not only a job, but a career they can grow into.

“They may be working part time or under the table, but they’re not in a job that is going to lead them to success,” Cruise explained. “They’re not in a job where they’re in a career that will eventually allow them to make a family-sustaining wage and live at a level they feel comfortable; we have a lot of people beyond the age of 21 that are in the marginal labor market.”

YouthWorks was able to receive its funding a year earlier to aid in planning and serve young people more efficiently. In the past, the agency has received separate funds for the summer program and the year-round program. This year, they’ve combined the funds into one lump sum.

“This is the first time we’ve done that; it’s significant because now we can tie together the summer programming and the work we do during the school year,” said Cruise. “Several of the youths involved in our summer program can continue on into our year-long program.

“So it has a nice continuity to it,” he went on. “We’re not offering full-time positions, but we do think our older youth have an opportunity to not only have a successful summer program, but to also get into a company that can offer a full-time position if that is what they want to do.”

 

The Job at Hand

Cruise has long been an advocate of summer jobs — not only as a way to introduce young people to the workforce, specific lines of work, and the soft skills needed to succeed long-term, but also as a way to help at-risk young people find alternatives to the streets and the trouble often found there.

But the YouthWorks initiative has always been a win-win-win, he went on, adding that the initiative has benefitted several sectors of the economy — manufacturing and the broad hospitality sector, to name a few — as well as individual businesses and nonprofits, and area cities and towns as well.

Dave Cruise says summer jobs bring benefits to both employees and employers.

Dave Cruise says summer jobs bring benefits to both employees and employers.

And at a time when many sectors are still contending with an ongoing workforce crisis, there are more opportunities for young people and businesses to benefit, with young adults participating in Youthworks now having a better opportunity to find a job that will last longer than the five-to six-week program.

“I believe there are some opportunities in the private sector, because many companies are having a difficult time finding the sufficient staff to do their work,” said Cruise. “It’s hard in the summer to bring someone on for five to six weeks, but if we do a good job matching the young people to the particular site, that five-to six-week summer program can potentially turn into something full time. We’re pretty confident that some of that is going to happen with our older groups.”

Meanwhile, a main focus for YouthWorks is to teach young adults the importance of work and the employability skills they will need to not only find a job, but to keep that job moving forward. Young adults will learn the importance of communicating with your work colleagues, showing up on time, being open to constructive criticism, working in a team concept, developing critical thinking and judgment skills.

“The technical skills they learn on the job are really important also, and we don’t consider them to be secondary,” Cruise went on. “We want to be sure the young folks are getting a real sense of the value and the importance of work — that work is good, work is healthy. It’s very exploratory with our 14-and 15-year-olds but those soft skills are just as important as they are for the 21-to 25-year-olds.”

Focusing on urban areas allows young adults to provide for not only themselves, but also for their families, said Cruise. Participants between the ages of 16 and 25 will be working 100 to 220 hours over the five-to six-week program, making $14.25, Massachusetts minimum wage.

“It’s a job where … they won’t get rich, but they’ll earn money to help continue to support their families and themselves,” he noted. “They’re not taking their check and running to the Apple store — they have other priorities.”

Young adults will be placed in one of the three organizations working with YouthWorks. They have placement opportunities at New England Farm Workers Council, MassHire Holyoke One Stop Career Center, and Valley Opportunity Center. The goal this summer, as noted, is to provide 740 jobs for the summer program and about 130 jobs during the fall.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the jobs secured by young people through the YouthWorks program were remote in nature, said Cruise, adding that as workplaces return to something approaching normal this year, participates should see a mix of working conditions, which will only add to the learning experiences.

“We want young people to not only experience hybrid and remote work and how that happens, but see it as something they have to adapt to and deal with as they deal with their career path,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Cruise emphasized that, despite the name of the program, those within the extended age range will not be treated like children. The purpose of the program is to help people — whether they be adolescents or adults — realize their potential and become successful members of the workforce.

“It’s hard to take a 25-year-old or an 18-year-old and call them a youth,” he said. “I don’t make that mistake calling them youth; they’re young adults … they’re adults, period. We treat them like adults. We respect them as adults.”

The summer program is going to begin the weekend after the Fourth of July. Applications are still available at the three organizations partnered with YouthWorks, online, and in most high schools in Hampden County.

 

Beyond a Paycheck

Since it was launched decades ago, the summer-employment program has been all about opening doors for young people, said Cruise.

These open doors lead to learning experiences on many different levels — from acquiring a specific skill, to understanding the importance of showing up for work on time, to discovering well … how to make a living.

Sometimes, these open doors lead to much more — not just a summer job, but a career. And with the expansion of the SummerWorks program to a broader age group this year, the hope, and the expectation, that more doors will be opened and many more young people will march through them.

Daily News

NORTH ADAMS — As part of the Berkshire Compact for Education, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, MassHire and other community partners will help showcase careers in the Berkshires the week of April 26-30 through Berkshire Virtual Career Week. The event aims to engage high school students, mainly in grades 10-12, in career awareness and exploration through a blend of live Zoom sessions with local professionals and scheduled broadcasts on Pittsfield Community Television.

Career Week programming is also open to Berkshire residents of all ages who are interested in learning more about the current labor market landscape in the Berkshires. Via PCTV, portions of the live sessions will be broadcast, and career-related content will air when there is not a live Zoom meeting. All videos will be available after the week-long event in PCTV’s online educational library. A full schedule with all programming will be available prior to April 26 at www.masshireberkshire.com

The MassHire Berkshire Career Center will also host a virtual job fair from noon to 4 p.m. on April 27. This event is for those ages 14-21 seeking jobs in the Berkshires. To register for the job fair, visit www.MasshireBerkshireCC.com and then “Calendar of Events.”

Career Week will also feature daily, live Zoom sessions focused on different careers in the Berkshires including a STEM session organized by MCLA and the Berkshire STEM Network, plus sessions on Health Care and Human Services, Hospitality and Tourism, Communications, Building Trades, and Advanced Manufacturing.

“It’s great to see these opportunities for students to learn more about what they want to pursue in their future,” said Berkshire Workforce Board high school intern Nick Lopenzina. “Workshops like this really give kids a chance to start finding their direction.”

Said MCLA Director of Corporate and Strategic Partnerships Dr. Joshua Mendel, “MCLA is proud to partner on this program with MassHire. Through MCLA representation on the Berkshire Compact’s Aspiration Committee and the Berkshire STEM Network, the College is able to contribute to these kinds of opportunities for students throughout the Berkshires, another part of our mission of public education, and another aspect of the work we do toward maintaining a thriving economy in Berkshire County.”

Opinion

Editorial

What’s in a name — or a brand?

Sometimes, very little, especially when it comes to government agencies, state or federal offices, or administrative programs. Changes in names and titles undertaken to eliminate confusion and generate progress rarely succeed in those missions.

We don’t believe that will the case with the state’s decision to rebrand, if you will, its many workforce-oriented agencies under the umbrella name MassHire. For example, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County is now the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board; CareerPoint in Holyoke is now the MassHire Holyoke Career Center. Springfield-based FutureWorks is now the MassHire Springfield Career Center; you get the idea.

There are 29 career centers and 16 workforce boards across the state, and they are now all unified under the MassHire brand, replacing what were 45 different names.

It sounds like a simple bureaucratic initiative perhaps designed to save money. But it’s much more than that; it’s an effort to simplify matters for job seekers and employers alike and bring more focus and energy to what is easily this state’s biggest and most vexing ongoing issue when it comes to business and economic development — creating and sustaining a large and effective workforce.

Rebranding to MassHire won’t solve all the problems, but it will make the system that’s been created — and it is a very good system, to be sure — far more user-friendly and reduce a great deal of confusion about where employers, employees, and job seekers should turn for help.

And a good deal of help is needed when it comes to each of those constituencies.

For employers, these are very intriguing times, as we’ve noted on many occasions and in several different ways. The economy is chugging along and doing very well in most respects. Many companies across a number of sectors are in a growth mode, but they are challenged — as in severely challenged — to find talented help that will enable them to achieve that growth.

Rebranding to MassHire won’t solve all the problems, but it will make the system that’s been created — and it is a very good system, to be sure — far more user-friendly and reduce a great deal of confusion about where employers, employees, and job seekers should turn for help.

It’s a numbers game, and it’s reaching a critical stage as unemployment rates continues to fall, even in urban markets such as Springfield and Holyoke, where they have been consistently higher than the state and national averages. In fact, in many states, and in this one, according to most accounts, we’re at what’s known as full employment.

That’s a technical term to describe a situation where, by and large, everyone who needs a job, and is qualified to hold one, has one. Full employment is a good thing, in most respects, but it’s also a dangerous state, because employers are under more duress as they look to fill their ranks.

Meanwhile, this situation is made much worse by the huge numbers of Baby Boomers that are retiring each year.

The phrase you hear most often these days, whether it’s the manufacturing sector (that’s probably where it’s heard most) or healthcare, or even financial services, is that candidates ‘lack the skills’ companies require. The career centers and workforce boards were created to help people acquire those skills and make them workforce-ready.

But because each one had a different name, there was often confusion about just where employers and employees should turn to get the help they needed.

As we said, rebranding to MassHire is not, by itself, going to solve the many workforce challenges facing this state. But it is a big step forward in many respects.

What’s in a name? In this case, plenty.

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