Teens take steps to job success at YouthWorks program


Photo Gallery | YouthWorks holds career workshop for students

PITTSFIELD -- Their stories differ. So do their backgrounds. But all of these youngsters have one thing in common -- a lack of basic job skills.

Basic as in not knowing how to communicate appropriately, wear the right clothing, or listen effectively in the workplace. Those are frightening deficiencies for teenagers and young adults to possess in an increasingly high-tech world.

This week, 64 Pittsfield youths between the ages of 14 and 21 are taking the first step toward surmounting these obstacles in a state-funded YouthWorks summer training program sponsored by the BerkshireWorks Career Center. Funding is provided through a $122,000 grant from the Commonwealth Corp.

Participants are currently undergoing five days of classroom training on topics like dependability, initiative, communication and collaboration in a second-floor classroom at the Intermodal Education Center at the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority's center on Columbus Avenue.

Next week, they'll begin five weeks of training with one of the 29 Pittsfield employers who have agreed to mentor the youths. Following that phase, the students will compile a seven-page portfolio detailing their experiences. Those who complete the program successfully receive a Workforce Readiness Certificate.

This is the 10th year the YouthWorks program has operated in Pittsfield. A total of 355 youngsters have received the training since the local program began, said Kelly Grove, BerkhireWorks' youth services coordinator.

The goal is to help these young people, who mainly come from disadvantaged backgrounds, to become successful in the future, and acquire the skills that lead to meaningful employment opportunities.

"It's hard for youth to gain employment," said Grove. "It's very challenging, very competitive, out there."

According to Grove, 45 of this year's youngsters have either graduated from high school or are enrolled in a high school equivalency degree program. The other 19 are still attending school, and were referred to the program by Pittsfield Public Schools. The participants have to meet income eligibility standards to take part in the program. Some of their families receive transitional assistance; others come from families where their incomes qualify them to receive free or reduced cost meals in the city's public schools.

The skills that the teens and young adults bring to the program vary.

"Some don't have any," Grove said. "They don't have the training to know how to dress on the job, or to handle situations with employers.

"It's not their fault," Grove said. "They just haven't been taught. They haven't been exposed to the workplace."

Zachary Lusignan, 19, wants to be a contractor like his father. Unlike some of his YouthWorks classmates, he has some previous job experience through working for his father, at fast food restaurants and doing landscaping jobs.

The most important skill he's learned is how to present himself to employers and to coworkers -- "how to have a good attitude when you're having a bad day," he said.

"I knew I slouched sometimes," he said, "but you don't think about what it actually means to other people."

Lian Stout, who graduated from Wahconah Regional High School in 2012, is interested in a career in the fashion industry. She took courses in that field for the past two years at Berkshire Community College, and is planning to attend Bay Path Community College in Boston in the fall. Her previous job experience has come mostly in the restaurant business.

"You have to show them that you want it," Stout said, referring to prospective employers.

During Wednesday afternoon's classroom session, the students received communication tips and were taught how to properly use Facebook and social media to network for jobs.

While some of the youngsters slouched or fidgeted, a 16-year-old boy in the front row took copious notes. Under the program's guidelines, Grove was prohibited from giving the youngster's name to the media without a waiver. But in a short interview, the boy said that before joining the program he had fallen in with the wrong crowd and had been asked to leave school.

The program is helping him change.

"I like to learn. I'm motivated," he said.

"It keeps me out of trouble," said the teen. "And it helps me better myself."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
or (413) 496-6224.
On Twitter: @tonydobrow


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