Tem A. is a junior in high school, and, at 17 years old, he is preparing to transition out of the foster care system.
He is receiving help in this endeavor from the nonprofit Auberle, where he is one of 77 at-risk youth completing The Auberle Employment Institute, which is working with Pittsburgh-area companies to create or modify training programs aimed at preparing young people for jobs.
The program's mission is twofold: train young people with the quantifiable and soft skills needed to hold down a job, and provide local companies with a pipeline of potential employees for hard-to-fill technical jobs.
Auberle, which helps about 2,350 at-risk children a year, many of whom are in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, is focusing on partnering with companies that need technical workers, and where the training includes receiving a recognized certificate upon completion, said John Lydon, CEO of Auberle. So far, the nonprofit is working with Weavertown Environmental Group and Massaro Properties on these job-training programs, but the group is looking for partnerships with other companies.
As part of the program, young people apply to be a part of the institute, where they are hired by Auberle to work in a variety of areas such as campus maintenance, the kitchen and reception, Lydon said.
Lydon noted participants must be able to hold down the job, and even if they are residents at Auberle and if they can't measure up to what is required for the job, they can be fired and then must wait to reapply and prove why the next time will be different.
These jobs offer a chance to help young people, who range in age from 16 to 24, learn skills such as how to accept and learn from a manager's feedback, how to act at work and how to take criticism. On top of these skills, which many employers say can be lacking in younger employees, the certificate training programs are designed to give participants a tangible, recognized skill to take into the workforce.
One such program is the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certificate with Weavertown. The Auberle program follows the same course as the national certification, which requires 40 hours of training. However, it is spread over 10 weeks and is supervised by Weavertown's own trainer, Troy Harris.
Harris meets with the students two nights a week and, in between his visits, the students have tutors to help fill in any academic gaps that might surface, Lydon said.
"At the end, the employer wants to see you have the knowledge and the certification, not how long it took," he said. "It really created a neat opportunity for the kids to get the opportunity to move from HAZWOPER and then the opportunity to move to Weavertown and a recognized transferable skill."
For Tem, he was not only able to earn the HAZWOPER certificate, but he also learned about environmental services and a career he had never thought of.
"I liked that it was hands-on and the teacher made sure we understood everything, and I enjoyed it and I was good at it," he said, adding that he plans to apply for a job with Weavertown when he turns 18.
After completing the program, students, as long as they are at least 18 years old, are qualified to apply for an entry-level technician job at Weavertown. These range in pay from $11.50 to $13 an hour, said Weavertown President and CEO Dawn Fuchs.
She added that these are some of the most difficult-to-fill positions at the company.
So far, eight students have finished the HAZWOPER program and are attempting to find employment or further their education.
Fuchs is a former board member at Auberle, and the program grew out of a simple coffee meeting between Fuchs and Lydon.
"Obviously, Weavertown is hoping maybe through our training they may take it on professionally and apply for a position as well," she said.
But the work is also deeply moving and a way to give back, Fuchs said.
"They may be 'at-risk,' but they are looking to better themselves and move on to a new opportunity," she said. "It's an admirable thing for the students."
The Auberle program receives some funding from the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board and fits in to the larger workforce training efforts in the region. Lydon says the program is meant to try to address a segment of the 40,000 chronically open jobs in the region as reported by the TRWIB.
"We have been pleased with the partnership with Auberle and the program and how connected they are to company needs, in addition to providing the broad range of skills on how to be a good worker," said Stefani Pashman, CEO of TRWIB.
The issue of workforce development and filling in the gap between the needs of open jobs and the skills of job seekers is not going away, she said.
"There's been enough high-level talk; now we need the programs to take occupations and real jobs and create people with those skills," she said.
Malia Spencer covers manufacturing, higher education and technology. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-208-3829. You can also follow her on Twitter.
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