Reengaging youths in employment opportunities

September 26th, 2014

News Coverage:

Reengaging youths in employment opportunities

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 6:57 am, Fri Sep 26, 2014.

By Doug LeDuc

Students have a lot at stake with the path they choose, according to northeast Indiana median wage data for individuals in the work force 16 and older provided by Economic Modeling Specialists International.

The median hourly income is $10.20 for less than a high school education, $16.30 for a high school or equivalent level of education, $17.06 for post-secondary, non-degree award, $23.41 for an associate’s degree, $28.79 for a bachelor’s degree, $31.23 for a master’s degree and $47.84 for a doctoral or professional degree.

Most individuals who drop out of high school and fail to get high school equivalency certification can look forward to a life behind a cash register asking customers if they want to sign up for a store credit card or if they want fries with that, if the dropouts are lucky enough to find a retailer willing to train them.

Northeast Indiana Works reported the region’s hourly median wage was $8.62 for fast food workers, $8.73 for restaurant servers, $8.77 for cashiers, $9.05 for cooks, $9.85 for retail sales representatives and $10.13 for stock clerks and order fillers. It is honorable work, but better as a supplementary income than a primary income.

“Many employment opportunities want you to be at least 18 years of age, so it’s really kind of your retail opportunities,” said Ryan Twiss, director of the Big Goal Collaborative for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

That is why the Big Goal works to keep students engaged through high school and oriented toward getting college education or vocational training to certification levels beyond high school. For students who don’t finish high school it encourages getting high school equivalency certification and then vocational training or college education.

“With the Big Goal Collaborative, we approach education from a cradle to career perspective, which means starting in early childhood education and moving to degree or credential education or placement in a career,” Twiss said. “One strategy is to focus on preparation. The better childhood education or reading level attainment a students have, the more likely they are to graduate.”

Other partners include academic institutions from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast and the region’s many school systems.

If high school dropouts will not seek out Northeast Indiana Works to obtain high school equivalency certification, the agency looks to reach them in other ways.

An example of that outreach is the BeSomeOne Now program overseen by Northeast Indiana Works and administered by Stop Childhood Abuse and Neglect.

Be Someone Now works with area youths to connect them with adult education opportunities or re-engage them with high schools, if that’s appropriate, “to help them get that high school level diploma or credential so that they can either pursue secondary options or enter the workforce,” said Edmond O’Neal, senior director of WorkOne operations at Northeast Indiana Works.

“They have several methods of outreach. A lot of it is developing relationships with their community partners so they get referrals of students when they drop out,” he said.

“Many of their referrals come from family members,” O’Neal said. “They could be a mom or dad or grandmother or aunt who says, ‘You know, my son, nephew, cousin, grandson or daughter needs help.’ And they work with them.”

BeSomeOne Now had close to 400 participants in the region last year, and about an additional 485 were enrolled in Jobs for America’s Graduates, a career exploration program, which is overseen by Northeast Indiana Works and administered at 14 high schools in the region by Community Action of Northeast Indiana.

The program is for high school students with post-secondary aspirations who need guidance the program can offer on how to pursue those interests; and it is for students who are at risk of dropping out of high school. It teaches soft skills and provides work experience and job shadowing opportunities.

“Employers these days are really looking for people who have a really good work ethic who are reliable, credible, show up on time and work in a good team environment, those kinds of skills,” said Rick Farrant, communications director at Northeast Indiana Works.

Exposure to a work environment while in high school is a particularly beneficial feature of the JAG program, O’Neal said, because “I do think even if a younger person has those soft skills they can sharpen them while they’re employed.”