Anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of the 1,000 students who graduate from public schools in Battle Creek would benefit from additional assistance in making the transition from high school to employment, according to area district superintendents.
Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan's Heartland, Inc. (GICMH) is helping these students – many of whom are from low-income families, have not identified a path after high school, don’t participate in extracurricular activities at school, live in unstable homes or are parents themselves – overcome these challenges and prepare for employment through its Goodwill Connects workforce development program.
“It’s really important that we get as many of them as we can on the right path,” said Ken Bauer, president and CEO of Goodwill. “We try to create as close to a real world experience as we possibly can for the participants in the program.”
Launched in 2014 with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Goodwill Connects provides job readiness training to high school juniors and seniors. Students attend the three-phrase program throughout the school year, which includes classroom instruction, field trips to major local employers and workforce training from employers representing a variety of industries, such as manufacturing, banking and human resources.
The phase one curriculum focuses on financial literacy, manufacturing and quality control and human resources. Students learn to analyze paystubs, create resumes and effectively communicate with potential employers.
The second phase includes additional classroom instruction and an eight-week paid summer job with one of 50 local employers. Students learn money management and work with career mentors, who provide additional soft skills training like mock interview preparation.
“You can’t change somebody’s life by giving them a job if they don’t know how to save their money and pay their bills,” said Jammie Greenless, GICMH’s Financial Opportunity Center liaison.
By the end of phase three, many students receive full-time employment either with their summer employer or another company in the Goodwill Connects network.
“I didn’t know what I needed to do for a job interview, how I needed to dress or how to talk,” said Nick Isaacson, 19, who was hired through the program for a part-time position with a paint manufacturer. “This helped with that.”
Nearly 250 students enrolled in the competitive program during phase one of the program for the 2014-15 school year and 147 students had the opportunity to move on to the second phase of the program, the summer work experience. Students take assessment tests and are evaluated throughout the year by GICMH staff, employers and mentors to advance through each phase.
“We know that every child may not be able to get a paid work experience, but we want them to get something out of this that relates to their life beyond high school and employment,” Bauer said.
Jonathan Enriquez, hired full-time as a stockperson at a thrift store when he completed Goodwill Connects, said the experience taught him responsibility and discipline.
“Teachers give you chances to act appropriately, but when you get out to the real world, you can have a job one minute, and the next minute be unemployed,” said Enriquez, 19. “On the jobsite you have to be on your game at all times.”
Greenless said the most rewarding part about her job is watching students blossom into responsible, productive individuals during the course of the program.
“This is my heart,” Greenless said. “It’s amazing to see their growth and even their maturity levels change.”