In March of this year, when Nevadaworks was coordinating with various providers on developing a summer youth work experience program, the statewide unemployment rate was 10.7 percent. To some, it seemed strange that there was a focus on youth employment when so many regular workers were unemployed. Now that the work experience program has ended, and the statewide unemployment rate is 13.2 percent, was the effort and expenditure worthwhile? Did the jobs created keep Nevada from surpassing Michigan's highest-in-the nation unemployment rate? Will there be long term benefits from providing 462 young Nevadans with positive workforce training?
These and many other questions will be answered with the passing of time. For now, I want to share some highlights of this often unique summer program.
The requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act mandated that the money Nevadaworks received for summer youth work projects be spent in full no later than the end of this September. Done.
These projects were to give each enrollee work-readiness skills training such as resume writing, interview do's and don'ts, customer service awareness and workplace decorum. Done.
If these youth needed extra help to improve grade-level skills, that was to be given. Done.
Each enrollee was to have an actual paid work experience. Done.
All of the youth completed basic work skills as required by most employers, their appearance was critiqued for job appropriateness, their method of communication was channeled into the needs of business, customer service was explained in great detail and much stress was given to attitude adjustment so that they can succeed in securing work when desired.
Training program participants in these fundamentals required hiring needed trainers, and several previously unemployed workers gained summer-long jobs. They not only earned money during these months, but several were then successful in securing full-time training positions with the agencies that conducted the short programs. This is a great side benefit for many.
Some of the jobs these young individuals held included: Learning all elements of landscaping; renovation of an old house into a clean and comfortable safe house for abused women; desert cleanup of more than 120,000 pounds of trash; retail convenience store clerking; serving the customers of a local wildlife non-profit; and learning how to supervise and guide young children in a daycare environment.
The approximate pay range for these jobs was between $8 and $12 per hour. For many of the workers, this was the first time they had ever received a paycheck. In fact, one recipient upon receiving his first check was quoted as saying "Who's this F.I.C.A. dude and why is he taking my money?" Welcome to our world!
Ever the skeptic of stated results, I decided to participate in several training completion ceremonies. This participation enables me to speak directly with the participants, parents and employers. What I heard this summer, greatly softened my attitude. One mother of an autistic son raved about the positive change in his self assurance and confidence. She praised the program instructors for their insistence that he would be "normal" in the group and not special.
A contractor volunteering his services for the safe house was so impressed with the assistance a youth was giving him that he hired the youth for full time work on his crew.
Another employer who was asked to hire one student for the summer said he had real concerns because, "You know how the young people are today." The employer finally relented and agreed to participate with the training. At the conclusion ceremony, he proudly stated that he had offered his worker an ongoing position and that if this stimulus training continues next summer, he will hire two individuals and he will encourage all of his business acquaintances to do the same!
So where do we go now? How do we create long term benefits for Nevada?
Over the years, the employer complaints most heard center on perceptions of poorly trained individuals. Those who have no concept of what employers need in a reliable worker. Often, employers lament the lack of qualified individuals our educational institutions are producing. They want government to step in and do something. At least in this small program, employers seem to have been heard. Government has stepped in. And now it is up to the employers.
Nevadaworks knows 462 individuals who are now ready for the next step in their work experience. They are ready for employers to offer them entry-level positions in all industries as the economy recovers. They are excited about their successes and they want an opportunity to change employers attitudes towards them. They are willing to work part-time, full-time or as interns. They know their lives have changed and they want that change to be permanent.
Now the spotlight is on the employers. Nevadaworks will readily give provider contact information to those who want to reach these trained youth. We will insure that those who want to help the providers continue this type of training will be introduced to the appropriate agencies. With a simple call to me (284-1340), I will coordinate the process of ensuring employer involvement.
There are many ways employers can benefit from the stimulus money we expended in training the future workforce. Unemployment may be outrageous in our area, but it will pass. The need for well-trained workers will return. Some of them are waiting now and should be integrated as soon as possible. Be proactive and beat your competition. Hire one of the 462 as soon as possible!
Tom Fitzgerald is chief executive officer of Nevadaworks.