The assorted challenges of the pandemic last year limited the Schenectady County Job Training Agency to 115 summer jobs for youth that were subsidized by the state, said Jennifer Bargy, director of workforce development.
But this summer, as conditions get back to normal, the agency has the capacity to employ 240 youth, Bargy said.
The program serves ages 14 to 24 from the county. Funding for subsidized jobs is from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, for low-income individuals, Schenectady County Probation to serve justice-involved youth, Schenectady County Youth Bureau and The Schenectady Foundation.
Bargy said there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of applications received and the number of worksites and locations that are willing to house summer youth employees.
“We’re very excited about that,” she said. “We’ve received over 300 applications and begun interviewing, and they seem very excited to participate in the program, to have an in-person experience.”
The summer youth program is on a lottery system. If someone is called in for an initial interview, and completes the requisite paperwork during the second interview, the young person is essentially guaranteed a job.
Schenectady resident Jamie Toomer was among young people who landed a job last week.
Toomer, 16, inked a 20-hours-per-week minimum wage position from July 6 to Aug. 13 at a local Price Chopper supermarket Thursday.
As his interviewer, Marlo Valachovic, looked on, the teen signed documents attesting that he would complete the entire summer work experience and not schedule vacation or time off during the program.
Because of Toomer’s stated interest in baking, Valachovic said she would try to have Toomer assigned to the grocery store’s bakery. But there was no guarantee.
Toomer, whose 15-year-old brother Javion also landed a job that day, explained why working is so important to him.
“It’s important for me to fund stuff that I need, or get things that I need over the summer, and just have money instead of relying on my parents or asking them for money to do fun stuff or invest in my business.”
The teen said he started a fashion business, Different Limits, last summer, selling shirts and bags modeled after Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Jamie Toomer said he’s had 200 sales to friends.
According to Bargy, youths start by participating in an interview with a designated career counselor to discuss interests and aptitudes. Youth are placed at a summer worksite compatible with their transportation needs, career interests and their availability to retain employment following the program.
Throughout the work experience, the career counselor will educate the youth on the foundational skills of employment and assist them to expand career awareness and develop new networks for opportunity.
For older youth, the career counselor will work with the youth to reflect on their work experience, interests, and future goals to collaboratively create a plan for the fall that includes unsubsidized employment or the pursuit of postsecondary education or a certificate program.
Youths in the program leave with a resume and the knowledge, skills and confidence to seek out independent employment opportunities, Bargy said.
Businesses benefit from the partnership in that the youth will be individually matched with their career interests and businesses can potentially make lasting connections with these youth who are ready to join the unsubsidized workforce.
During the summer program, a local credit union provides financial well-being curriculum to all youth in the program.
The pandemic brought with it unexpected challenges, but despite hurdles with social distancing and quarantining, the county job training agency was able to provide a safe, in-person program to 115 youth in 2020, Bargy said.
With support from the city of Schenectady, it engaged 22 youth with a continued work-experience opportunity that extended into the fall and winter months, she said.
Youth honed their foundational skills and created transition plans with their job coaches for next steps after they finished the program.
As a result of the 2020 summer youth employment program, five youth obtained unsubsidized employment, one entered into a phlebotomy program.
In an independent study of the 2020 Schenectady County program, 83% of young people reported leaving the program with good or great career/workforce knowledge, and 98% demonstrated gains in at least one career readiness capacity, with 74% of participants demonstrating gains in four or more career readiness capacities.
Valachovic, who interviewed youths for the first time this summer, said:
“It’s really exciting because we’re here to try to help them to find something that they’re really interested in so that they want to go to work. What better way to start off a job or career than doing something that you really enjoy. It makes you want to go to work.”
Valachovic said it’s evident the young people are eager to get to work.
“These kids here are stuck on Zoom and Google classrooms and all this virtual stuff. They just want to be able to get out and be normal.”
Rachel Conn, executive director of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, usually takes on 10 to 15 employees for a summer camp. She said the center would take on additional young people this summer to staff a Black Lives Matter public art project.
“I think it’s a great program,” Conn said. “The children get job experience and get paid, and it helps us out to staff our programs.”