Written by Rick Hiduk
The Northern Tier Industry & Education Consortium (NTIEC) has successfully provided hands-on learning experiences for high school students in the region since 1993 through the Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP). By matching the career interests of juniors and seniors with employer needs and securing the student a part-time job, the youth garners an income and academic credits, and the business owner finds a potential long-term employee.
In recent years, the workforce demand in the norther tier has increased tremendously. NTIEC consistently has businesses seeking students for apprenticeship opportunities, and more are looking for help than there are students who are available to work. In itself, that makes the YAP more valuable than ever before. The community at large benefits from any programs that get young adults into the job market faster and on the path to family-sustaining wages. Equally important is helping employers build a workforce in a positive way without costing anybody a lot of money.
I can give you a list of at least six employers who were interested in the program, wanting to build a quality workforce and help kids build soft- and job-specific skills, NTIEC educational coordinator Colin Furneaux, â€œand we are waiting for students interested in such positions.
NTIEC educational coordinator Deb Tierney noted that fields in which apprenticeship positions were left unfilled included agriculture, mechanics, manufacturing, and other trades, including plumbing for commercial businesses and the gas industry.
NTIEC has placed more than 100 students in the YAP in Tioga, Bradford and Sullivan counties and wants to duplicate that success in Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne, Lackawanna and Luzerne counties. Furneaux and Tierney realize that some of that imbalance can be attributed to the size of the school districts and jobs available in those districts.
The more rural you are, there are sometimes less job opportunities available, said Furneaux. So, if you have a job, you want to make the most of it. NTIEC has quantified employment in fast food restaurants and small retail outlets, he continued. You can still build soft skills by showing up on time, working in groups, learning to take directions and solve problems, and staying off their cellphones while on the clock. You’re getting that resume experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else
Smaller and private schools face similar challenges when it comes to preparing their students for the job market. They don’t have the services in house and, sometimes, quality career counseling isn’t available to them, Furneaux explained.
Providing a staff member who can coordinate a number of students at various worksites would cost the district much more than fee that NTIEC charges for the service.
Over the last 26 years, NTIEC has also worked alongside co-op teachers and local career technology centers to help better prepare our students for the workforce. Partnerships like these are helping students create more meaningful career discussion opportunities.
According to Furneaux, there are several approaches to arranging a meaningful apprenticeship. Some students come to us already employed, and we construct training plans and set up perimeters, he related. NTIEC ensures that the employer has the proper clearances and that the course objectives are clear. We coach both the employer and the student throughout the process.
NTIEC staff is available to help the employer apply for state Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC), which can cover up to 90 percent of the employers program expense. For-profit businesses can get a portion of their expenses for hiring that student back as a tax credit,â€ said Tierney. That includes salary and any training that is required. There is a strict time schedule for applying for EITC, which is allotted on a first-come, first-served basis.
There is help as well for the students and schools. Grants are available from a variety of sources, as are funds from private foundations. NTIEC’s executive director procures the funds, which are then spread out among eligible schools as per the grant specifications. NTIEC’s staff works with member and nonmember school districts to make all of the arrangements.
Working during the day is most common, especially the afternoon. But more school districts have been open to the idea of the students fulfilling their work requirements at night. Jobs are becoming less traditional, and I think the school districts are seeing that, Furneaux said of evening employment options.
He or she is going to get the same training and exhibit the same work ethic that they would during the day, Tierney added, noting that the program is also flexible in the sense that it can be started or stopped at any time during the school year to parallel gaps in the academic schedule or coincide with a student getting a driver’s license.
Parents and students who are interested in the YAP should contact their guidance counselor or NTIEC directly at 570-278-5038 and check out www.ntiec.com.