Our region has a uniquely large number of youth and young adults in our workforce system thanks to Michigan State University, Lansing Community College and the University Center. In addition, secondary students from the dozens of high schools in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties are a part of the workforce with after-school and summer jobs.
With that significant portion of our community in mind, as we evaluate the knowledge, experience and preparedness of our region’s workforce, we need to consider ways to encourage talent and interest in a variety of fields so our workforce is prepared for the future. Investing in our youth now and encouraging them in their career exploration and talent development will help us create a stronger workforce in the future.
To get an idea of how youth workforce programming has shifted in the past year, I reached out to our stateside partner at Youth Solutions. The Youth Solutions team works with Michigan’s youth and inspires them to achieve their fullest potential in education and employment. Through their premier program, Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates, JMG specialists work with youth to help them find their path to education and employment success.
Because of COVID-19, youth have faced new barriers to completing school and getting a job, ranging from financial hardships and academic challenges to emotional struggles and the loss of in-person social networks that foster a sense of belonging. Simultaneously, JMG had to adapt to the virtual environment and find new and creative ways to engage youth. With the help of the national affiliate, Jobs for America’s Graduates, JMG worked to create more flexible options for connecting with youth virtually, in-person or a hybrid of the two.
Since early 2020, both in-school and out-of-school JMG programming shifted predominantly to virtual service delivery, and specialists expanded their social and emotional support services for youth. They checked in on basic needs more regularly, including to determine whether or not the youth felt safe at home or if food insecurity supports were needed. JMG has always incorporated trauma-informed care and social and emotional learning; however, in light of the pandemic, it became a significant focus of the program over the past year.
“A big part of our programming is employer and postsecondary engagement, which pre-COVID would mean a classroom visit or campus tour,” said Sonya Blanzy, director of operations for Youth Solutions. “Being virtual opened opportunities to connect employers with youth across the state, introducing them to career and postsecondary opportunities. It helped them see the vast number of potential careers available to them. Through our efforts, we served more young people this past year than ever before in our history, reaching 3,510 youth.”
While ensuring youth graduate from high school is a top priority, JMG is all about inspiring and connecting youth to a future beyond imagination. JMG specialists give youth opportunities to explore multiple career options, expanding their imagination and the scope of future possibilities.
Consider Boaz, a Waverly High School JMG alum who first joined the program in September 2018. Boaz participated in every opportunity available to him, and it didn’t take long for him to become a leader in the classroom. In January 2020, Boaz participated in a JMG talent tour of LCC where he learned about the many trade programs offered there. Now, Boaz is a full-time student at LCC and enrolled in their lineworker program.
Boaz’s story is just one example of the ways JMG youth have the opportunity to realize future possibilities that they previously may not have been exposed to. By providing our youth with a comprehensive program covering postsecondary education opportunities and career pathways, they begin to have a more concrete way to make educated decisions on various college and career pathways with the support of the JMG team around them. In doing so, they can chart their course toward postsecondary education and career success, giving youth a realistic path toward achieving their life goals.
To learn more about Youth Solutions, visit their website: https://www.ouryouthsolutions.org/.
Carrie Rosingana is the CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works!. Visit www.camw.org to connect with the Capital Area Michigan Works! team for assistance with career exploration or staffing needs. Capital Area Michigan Works!, a proud partner of the American Job Center Network, offers services in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties at our Lansing, St. Johns and Charlotte American Job Centers.