News Article

PYN News Article

Meet the next work force


Category: WorkReady | Jun 1, 2003

Maybe you've heard about the effort to keep Philadelphia school children from dropping out of life. School District CEO Paul Vallas has sure been talking about it enough. He and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Schweiker, at an April breakfast hosted by the Philadelphia Business Journal, called on the business people in the room to reach out to students.

Schweiker even shared a story about an executive who helped connect a student to the world beyond the impoverished neighborhood in which the student lived. Now the student is graduating from college, a success story in a school system that has failed far too many students.

So how does one answer the call?

A key way is through WorkReady Philadelphia (www.workreadyphila.com), a program under the auspices the Workforce Investment Board's Philadelphia Youth Council, that has placed 8,500 students, age 14-21, in summer jobs this year. Another 5,000 sit on a waiting list for jobs that probably won't materialize for most.

Although the public- and privately funded program does run year-round, Laura Shubilla would like to place as many students in jobs this summer as possible. As president of the Philadelphia Youth Network, a nonprofit group that administers WorkReady, it's Shubilla's job to get businesses to take interns.

"We could fill as many slots as we have," she said. "It's not a situation where we're looking for kids."

The program charges employers $1,000 per student. With that, it provides training and pays students an hourly wage for 20 hours a week, with four of those hours devoted to training by WorkReady.

Businesses have been part of school-work programs in the past, though jobs with government or non-profits are more common.

St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia has been among the pioneers in student-work programs. School districts from outside the area actually go there to see how it's done.

St. Christopher's has created a three-year program that has trained 217 students since its 1994 inception. It starts with an unpaid job shadowing component for high school sophomores, who move into minimum-wage jobs in junior and senior years.

The hospital has a C average requirement, although students must exhibit no behavioral or attendance problems in school. The emphasis is on continuing education beyond high school and the hospital has found funding for a scholarship program to help students get degrees.

"We try to target those students who may in fact be lost," said Barbara Liccio, director of volunteer services and coordinator of the health technician program that oversees the job program.

Students work beside nurses and pharmacists. They help distract children in a playroom, quieting the fears of young patients. They work on computers, answer phones, help register patients and sterilize dental equipment.

Liccio believes that workers who mentor students get a lot of benefit and appreciation in return for their efforts. She can name students who have gone through the program and chosen to stay on with the hospital or come back as employees after receiving additional education.

At Lockheed Martin Management Systems in King of Prussia, 16 students due to graduate from a three-year information-technology apprenticeship this summer represent a new way to find skilled employees. John Torres, technical director for LMMS, says the true measure of the program will be whether students who are offered jobs are still with the company two years later.

Until then, the company is moving ahead. Another 22 students have been enrolled.

These are the large-scale examples, but most employers start much smaller. Student jobs, in general, tend to be found one and two at a time. Shubilla said some of the best examples have included a company bringing on a student to manage a project that might not otherwise get done.

WorkReady also is offering a customer service credential to students who work in hospitality and financial service jobs, for example.

While there's altruism involved, Shubilla knows employers will be looking for other tangible payoffs. The value of giving students a peek at successful futures, however, can't be underestimated.

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