Lifestyle

Creating bridges to employment

If the key to the future is the education and employment of America’s youth, the Summer Youth Employment Program is Kitsap County’s first step toward that future.

“Our participants were able to work up to 32 hours a week,” said Angela Marcos-Harrison, SYEP Coordinator Kitsap. “In addition to what they learned on the job, we provided them with an additional four hours of paid training once a week focused on work readiness skills. A few examples of our trainings were future career and education options; résumé building; soft skills; financial literacy classes from Kitsap Credit Union; and CPR/first aid training from the American Red Cross. For many of our participants, this was their first job and they learned lessons about paperwork, timesheets, deadlines and general employer expectations.”

SYEP was set up to employ 16-24-year-old, low-income young adults in various worksites throughout the county, according to Marcos-Harrison. More than 300 applications were received for entry into the program and 133 of those applications were accepted.

Duties for participants ranged from landscaping to working in tanning salons. There were 50 different work sites throughout the county.

“Our worksites were public, private, nonprofit — the only limitations were they needed to be a legitimate business or organization willing to provide a meaningful work experience, training and supervision for our participants,” Marcos-Harrison said. “Seven of our employers were Kitsap County departments acting as worksites for 17 of our participants.”

Participants were paid minimum wage, $8.55 per hour, and no stipulations were placed on the spending of their earnings, according to Marcos-Harrison. The program also was able to provide additional services to those taking part in the program.

“We provided work appropriate clothing such as office attire, work boots, rain gear and interview clothing to help prepare them for when they left,” she said. “Transportation is a huge barrier to employment particularly for young people, so we also provided bus passes and gas cards.”

Tiffany Skidmore, Youth Counselor for Pathways to Success & Youth Services, said she was pleased to have the opportunity to be a part of the program and work with the participants.

“It was a great pleasure to work with the youth in the SYEP,” she said. “It was an opportunity to really get to know them as people, understand where they were coming from and help them to overcome some of the barriers that they had in life.”

Many of the young people in the program had little to no work experience, according to Skidmore, and that was an issue when looking for work. SYEP helped them to overcome this barrier and built their encouragement.

“It was amazing to see a youth, who was discouraged about his or her possibilities in life, realize they not only could be a contributing member of society, but their contributions were unique, exceptional and valued by the community and employers,” Skidmore said.

Success stories from the program are not uncommon, according to Skidmore. Many of the youth she worked with showed dedication to their jobs, including one who went far beyond the call of duty.

“I worked with one young man who lived in a rather rural area of Port Orchard, not serviced by buses,” Skidmore said. “In order to get to and from work each day, he either rode over 6 miles each way on his bicycle to the nearest bus stop, or caught a ride with his father, getting to his work site nearly three hours early. And his situation was not atypical. It was amazing to see each participant really succeed and surpass their own expectations, despite some really tough circumstances.”

A by-product of the program, confidence, was seen in most of the participants, according to Skidmore, and talk of moving forward to further their education was abundant.

“I think one of the most important things this program did, aside from supporting youth in gaining work experience, was to open up future avenues and possibilities for youth,” she said. “I heard from participants, many times over, that they never considered themselves as being able to do a certain kind of work (office work, working with kids, technical trades, etc.), but now they were considering going to college or a trade school in order to make a career for themselves.”

Overall, Marcos-Harrison called the program a success and hopes to help more people in future years.

“This program was a huge success,” she said. “We accomplished exactly what we set out to do. We employed 133 youth over the summer where they gained a paycheck, experience and preparation for the future. But looking past these immediate rewards, I believe we also left these young people with a feeling of accomplishment and built overall confidence not just in the workplace. This will serve them far after the programs end.”

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