Northern Berkshire public officials and the region’s employment board recently launched a campaign to get young people jobs this summer.
The North Adams Youth Works Program hopes to connect 15 people age 14 to 21 who may have barriers to employment with jobs this summer. Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Youth Director Heather Williams says the statewide youth employment rate dropped from 54 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2012 where it has hovered recently.
“This is especially important given the current time where the youth employment rate is at its lowest point since the 1940s throughout the nation, state and the region,” Williams said. “Also, our region is facing some critical workforce issues given the current skills gap where our employers are in desperate need of skilled workers and our population decline where our young people are leaving the region in droves.”
The organizers are reaching out to businesses to hire a young person, sponsor their employment or serve as a host employer. It takes $1,500 to provide a young person with a six-week job through the program. Last year’s inaugural effort connected eight people with jobs in public works, education and social services, with at least one person landing a long-term position with the company he worked for in the summer. Program participants are chosen from within North Adams Public Schools and outside the educational system as recommended by the Berkshire Community Action Council. Williams says participants receive 10 hours of workplace readiness training and are assigned a case manager before starting the summer job.
“We do require all of our employers to do a work-based learning plan with the youth that they’re working with,” Williams said. “This is a statewide tool that assesses a youth’s job-specific and foundational skills. Skills like attendance, punctuality, dressing appropriately and communicating effectively. This document, at the end of the youth’s work experience, is a living and breathing document that the youth can take with them as they tried to get employed by other companies and businesses beyond the summer program to show their skill progression while they were participants in the program.”
So far the campaign has enough money to sponsor 10 people thanks to support from Berkshire Bank and Mountain One and by utilizing a portion of state funding for youth jobs in Pittsfield. With a much smaller population than Pittsfield, North Adams does not receive state funding for youth summer jobs as it’s based on the number of youth living in poverty. Gailanne Cariddi represents North Adams in the Massachusetts House.
“There just is not enough state funding that comes out our way,” Cariddi said. “I’ve always felt very bad about that because the youth job works in the state budget line will only cover around 35 communities. So I’ve always to stretch some out here, but when I’ve talked to the people who head that up they always say ‘Well, you’re about 35 communities from the last one we’ve funded and we’d have to fund all of those plus yours.’”
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright called on the community and employers to support the program.
“Work in itself is an ethic,” Alcombright said. “That ethic needs to taught, fostered and rewarded. By reward, is a paycheck. The paycheck garners independence. Independence is a great thing for our young kids. The fact that they don’t have to go ask mom or dad for $10 to go to Burger King or something is a good thing. We know how that makes us feel…to be independent. That independence breeds pride. I think the more pride our kids can have in themselves the better chance that they have at building their own future.”
Click here to learn more about the youth summer jobs program.