This article was originally posted on wickedlocalplymouth.com and is reposted with permission.
Judi Vigna thought the answer to keeping kids healthy and out of trouble in the summer was simple – host a job fair and put them to work.
But the local mom soon realized that many kids just aren’t prepared for the workforce. Some don’t know how to apply for jobs. Others don’t know what is expected if they land one. Many face transportation barriers - for some kids, just getting to and from work is a real issue.
Vigna’s solution, in partnership with the South Shore Workforce Board, is the Specialized Career Guidance YouthWorks Construction Program, an eight-week pilot program that pays young men and women to explore careers in the construction industry.
Thirteen young men and women completed the pilot program Monday, walking away with real prospects for careers in construction as well as an awareness of what it takes to succeed there.
Patrick is a prime example of how the program can work.
The Plymouth North High School student entered the summer with plans to become a carpenter after graduating from high school next year but is now leaning toward electrical or sheet metal work after visiting with representatives of the crafts in the program. He sent out three letters for internships on the last day of the program Monday and had offers from two of the companies by the end of the day.
“Without this program, it would have been a lot of trial and error and it’s more complicated than just saying that. It would have meant getting a job and learning that job and then learning I didn’t like that job and then getting fired from that job,” Patrick said. “Now I’ve had more of a sneak peek and can narrow that down. I think that’s the best part of this program.”
Others in the program enjoyed similar moments of discovery. Will, who is in his senior year at Map Academy, plans to enroll in the Electric Power Utility Technology Program at Bunker Hill Community College when he graduates next winter after learning that the EPUT program offers job placement with Eversource.
Vigna, a mother of two, has been active in the community for years. She was a recipient of the state’s Unsung Heroine Award in 2015 for her work in founding the Healthy Plymouth Opportunities Program job fair, which helped middle and high school students find meaningful summer internships and jobs.
Vigna founded Specialized Career Guidance last year after realizing that many young men and women needed more personalized help in starting a career.
She drew inspiration from her father, who went to college to appease his family, but eventually ended up working with his hands in the construction industry. After doing a little research, Vigna learned that the construction industry is in dire need of young workers and offers a variety of training programs and apprenticeships to get new workers started.
Vigna partnered with the South Shore Workforce Board and Commonwealth Corporation to start a construction career exploratory program for young men and women who meet low-income eligibility requirements. Applicants had to be 17 to 21 and live in Plymouth or attend a Plymouth school.
Applicants had to present references, and those who made the cut were taken on as associates in a training program.
The program focused on teaching associates a handful of core work qualities that employers told Vigna were the biggest issues with newly hired workers - dependability, initiative, communication skills, collaboration skills and no phone.
The program started with two long days of classroom work that saw the associates earn their OSHA-10 construction cards. Then, for the next six Mondays, they met with Vigna and three assistants to learn about pursuing a career.
The days started at 8 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m., to give the associates a feel for what a full day’s work was like. Along the way, Vigna and her three assistants worked individually with associates on improving their job prospects, from fine-tuning soft skills like interviewing techniques to helping associates move forward in their plans to get a driver’s license. Only one of the associates has his license, but everyone is now working toward getting one.
The associates are paid $12 an hour, the state’s minimum wage, to attend the program. Vigna encouraged each to use the money for driver’s education classes, permitting fees or tools – anything that would advance their career.
The program included site visits to Redbrook and Glynn Electric to learn about construction jobs. Associates also visited the New England Carpenters Training Center in Millbury and the New England Laborers Training Camp in Hopkinton to see different opportunities for work as well as the distances that workers must sometimes travel for their jobs.
“We approached it the same way you would look at colleges, but looked at what opportunities are available that you may not need to go to college for,” Vigna said. “And I think they were surprised at the opportunities.”
“They seemed to understand right off the bat that this was a moment that could help them pivot to someplace better,” Annemarie Goode, a guidance counselor at Quincy College and one of Vigna’s three assistants for the summer program, said.
The associates who completed the program left with OSHA construction cards, resumes, references, templates for cover letters as well as contacts within the industry and the confidence to network and reach out for assistance in looking for work.
Vigna gave each a $100 gift certificate for services that might advance their career, such as Uber rides, tools or car parts. Each associate also received a certificate for a one-hour session with Vigna to introduce them to a new employer, meet with a guidance counselor to arrange school schedules around work or any other help in moving their career forward.
“Show me the initiative and I will be there,” Vigna said.
Vigna said the she hopes to repeat the program again locally next summer and expand it to communities across the state, where the need for construction workers and the need to help young adults find careers are similar.
“When I went looking for workforce development funding, someone spoke about kids not being ready to go to work, but I felt differently. I felt they just need to be connected,” Vigna said. “I felt the biggest thing that I could do was ignite career passion, because once you ignite it, they’ll go for it. But without knowing it exits, they can’t.”
For more details about the program and to check out the students in action, visit here.