Reading High and Gage Personnel work to get students into the job market
Friday December 29, 2017 12:01 AM
By Karen L. Chandler
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | Krystal Murataya, 17, a senior at Reading High School, receives training with maps and tour books from Amy Wolter, a supervisor at AAA Reading-Berks.
Special to Reading Eagle: Karen L. Chandler | Ivy Horn posts successful job candidates on a bulletin board at Reading High School, where she administer the Career Program.
Reading High School students are going to work with help from Gage Personnel and the support of local businesses.
Gage Personnel, West Reading, announced its new Reading High School Career Program in September. The program is focused on the growth and success of high school students and the local workforce.
"Not only are the businesses and organizations supporting this program providing students with opportunities to help ensure their success both in school and the workforce, they are also helping to shape the future of the community," said Kristi Gage-Linderman, Gage Personnel executive vice president.
Reading High Principal Eric Turman was looking for a way to keep his students from dropping out of school and approached Gage with ideas for a career program.
"A good majority of my students are working out of necessity," Turman said. "So the choice between work and school was an easy answer."
The partnership resulted in a new Gage staffer on-site at the high school.
Ivy Horn, a past student at Reading and the new career program coordinator, accepted the position immediately and calls it the perfect job for her.
"These kids are really amazing," she said.
Coaching for success
Turman considers Horn's coaching of the high school students as important to their overall success. Prior to helping students make connections with businesses that have become Career Program partners, Horn teaches interviewing skills, helps with applications and resumes and gives guidance on how students should conduct themselves through the process.
And Horn is seeking even more businesses, organizations or individuals who can provide students full- or part-time paid positions, paid or unpaid internships and opportunities for job shadowing, training, career advice and motivational speeches.
Dan Clouser, president of BIG Vision Foundation, a nonprofit running a youth sports complex in Bern Township, has already employed Reading High students in concession stand and grounds maintenance positions through the career program.
Clouser felt the new program aligned with the BIG Vision mission to do sports programming for inner-city youth.
"Whether it be on the athletic field or by helping teach young people life skills through employment opportunities, it made perfect sense for us to be able to provide a positive experience while helping a student learn the responsibilities of being in a workforce," he said.
Covered in stars
Since the program opened at the beginning of the school year, 53 students have achieved employment or internships at partner businesses. Horn documents each victory on a bulletin board outside of her office. There are 53 stars with students' names and the businesses where they are working.
Though many job placements for students over age 18 go directly through Gage Personnel, Horn researches openings on her own for students ages 15 through 17, frequently employed in food and retail services. Most businesses where students have found work pay more than the minimum wage, and some give performance bonuses, Horn said. Partners include Sweet Street Desserts, Wendy's, HealthSouth and AAA Reading-Berks.
Some students who are newer to the area and for whom English is their second language have found positions at Dew Fresh Inc., a mushroom grower near Lenhartsville. Horn said supervisors at Dew Fresh are able to speak Spanish, making it a comfortable working environment for the students hired to harvest mushrooms.
As with other employers in the career program, Dew Fresh personnel keep in touch with Horn about the progress of the student employees.
"They're doing a fantastic job," she said.
Students who go to work through the Career Program must do their part to ensure the success of the partnership. Attendance and weekly grades are monitored by Horn and school personnel to ensure classwork and graduation remain a priority.
"School and grades come first," Horn said. "We haven't had any issues. Working is a privilege."
And some students are already bringing up their grades because of their interest in getting jobs.
'Need to guide students'
The Reading-Muhlenberg Career & Technology Center is also on board with Horn if students are looking for a job in their field. Although Horn said businesses will probably contact the school directly with requests for students with specific skill sets, Horn hopes there are companies who are willing to do on-the-job training for students who did not attend the center because of space constraints or grade issues.
"We do have other students that would like, or want to do, skilled jobs," she said.
As an unexpected benefit of the new program, kids who have gone to work are becoming friends and supporting one another through their job experiences, Horn said.
Student participant Chynna Vigo said: "The RHS/Gage program helps me learn business skills that I will use in the future. It also has helped me open up and talk to my peers while assisting them with their job search."
Turman is looking ahead to getting more students to graduation and then on to employment that could include tuition reimbursement toward continuing education.
"Many jobs in Berks County offer tuition reimbursement up to 100 percent," he said. "We need to guide students to opportunities for long-term success."
With hopes of seeing the new program expanded to an even larger initiative involving more students and businesses, Gage-Linderman is proud to see the community support for the youth at Reading High School and feels honored to be a part of the initiative.
"Through investing in our students and by partnering with organizations focused on workforce readiness initiatives, schools and businesses can help to close the skills gap and continue to build our community's workforce development programs," she said.
According to Turman and Horn, Reading High students want to work. A recently hired student intern, Elianny Martinez, said "the Gage internship is giving me my first work experience. I am learning leadership and working on my social skills. This is a huge opportunity that will help me with my future career choice."
Though Horn said locating more businesses to partner with the school is key, she is inspired by every student who is successful in finding a job.
"If we get one student working in the entire year, we've made a difference for that student," she said. "School started Aug. 26 and I had applicants on Aug. 26."
Horn can be reached at I.Horn@gagepersonnel.com for more information on the Career Program.
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