SCHENECTADY — The YouthBuild program in Schenectady will add staff and continue its mission to help young adults gain high school equivalency degrees and job skills, thanks to a $1.1 million federal grant announced Wednesday.
The Social Enterprise and Training Center would have had to cut staff without the funding commitment, according to Executive Director Jennifer Lawrence. With the money, SEAT will hire a program manager and classroom instructor and will continue to offer services to residents of Amsterdam, which it added to its service area earlier this year.
SEAT operates out of 131 State St. with a full-time staff of 10 and four adjunct instructors. Its mission is to help young people gain the education credentials and job skills they lack. Its primary tools for doing this are YouthBuild, which has served about 350 high school dropouts over its 11 years, and TrainUp, which provides similar services to young adults who have high school diplomas but lack job skills.
YouthBuild USA has been in operation for 35 years. In 2014, it served about 10,000 students at 260 sites in 46 states.
The Schenectady program was begun 11 years ago by what was then the Northeast Parent and Child Society. YouthBuild programs also operate in Troy and Albany; the next closest locations to Schenectady are in Utica and Kingston.
In 2015, as Northeast Parent and Child Society focused its mission, SEAT was spun off as an independent entity; it gained its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status earlier this year.
Lawrence said SEAT has more YouthBuild applicants than it can take, so the federal funding announced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand will be put to good use.
“There’s a big need,” she said. “We have over 200 phone calls a year” from potential students.
She said SEAT works to help students do several things through YouthBuild: Earn a high school equivalency diploma, think about continuing their education (Schenectady County Community College is SEAT’s educational partner), learn the work skills needed to land a job and develop the soft skills needed to keep a job.
The work skills are heavily oriented toward the construction trades. That’s not just because there is always a market for entry-level construction labor, Lawrence said, but also because it helps develop a work ethic.
“It’s very important to us that construction is a hard day’s work,” she explained.
That said, only about 30 percent of SEAT’s YouthBuild graduates go on to construction jobs. Many pursue college studies or other entry-level work instead.
SEAT, in conjunction with Better Neighborhoods Inc. and the Capital Region Land Bank, is embarking on a construction project in which YouthBuild students will construct a net zero single-family house on Prospect Street in Schenectady. Net-zero structures are those that can generate all the energy they need, utilizing solar and other technologies.
Lawrence said SEAT began busing students to Schenectady from Amsterdam six months ago and is looking for projects to do in Amsterdam, as well. The federal money will allow SEAT to continue serving Amsterdam, which it began doing because of repeated requests.
SEAT also was receiving a lot of interest in YouthBuild from young adults who needed its services — particularly job skill development — but were disqualified because they already had high school diplomas. So in conjunction with the Schenectady Foundation, SEAT started a similar program in November for those individuals: TrainUp.
TrainUp has three career tracks, Lawrence said. The first was something SEAT was already familiar with: construction. The second is emergency medical services, which will start a training session Monday in partnership with Mohawk Ambulance Services. The third, culinary arts, will begin in about a month.
All three career tracks are in fields with high demand for entry-level workers, Lawrence said. And interest was heavy in the emergency medical technician class that is starting Monday: About 30 people applied for the 10 seats. As it narrowed the field, SEAT used job-shadowing and ride-alongs with ambulance crews to help applicants decide if it was the right job for them.
SEAT hasn’t begun filling the culinary training program yet but has secured a partner to help run it: The Mallozzis, operator of numerous eateries in and around Schenectady.
“They want people who want careers,” she said.