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YouthWorks teaches teens host of skills for workplace success

MIDDLEBURY — More strict than school, less strict than a traditional job. That’s the mantra of YouthWorks, an initiative sponsored by several Addison County and statewide organizations aiming to make area youth career ready.
This summer, 11 students ages 16-21 have been taking part in a YouthWorks program at Hannaford Career Center and at worksites to develop a variety of personal and professional skills. The goal is to teach them not only how to land a job, but to do well once they’re employed.
The YouthWorks program is run like a workplace, where students learn for 32 hours a week and receive a wage of $10 per hour. The program runs six weeks, until Aug. 17.
“It’s an educational job,” said participant Jake Gorton, 19, of Brandon.
The program is a collaboration between the Career Center, Vermont Adult Learning, and ReSOURCE. A Burlington nonprofit, ReSOURCE received a $71,668 grant from the Vermont Department of Labor to fund a number of youth employment training programs throughout the state. The organization partnered with the Addison County office of Vermont Adult Learning to administer the program in Middlebury. Financial support for the program also came from the United Way of Addison County.
   MICHAELA SYLVAIN, 18, of Middlebury and Jake Gorton, 19, of Brandon have participated in the Youth Works program this summer at the Hannaford Career Center. The program pays students to learn job and job hunting skills.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
According to ReSOURCE Training Director Bethany Johnson, the Addison County program, one of six throughout the state, is particularly strong. She said that Vermont Adult Learning, ReSOURCE, and the Career Center are able to complement one another to deliver a unique curriculum.
“This program in particular is really special,” she said. “The partnership has been able to develop this unique six-week program … The delivery of instruction and curriculum is so tied together.”
Each week of the program is designed to introduce participants to a new skill. During the first week, students go through orientation where they get to know one another and work on their interpersonal skills. The second, third, fourth and fifth weeks are dedicated to learning automotive, culinary, graphic design and construction skills, respectively. During the sixth and final week, students receive forklift training and spend time touring community businesses.
Throughout the course of the program, students earn six different certifications, including CPR, OSHA and ServSafe certifications.
Michaela Sylvain, 18, of Middlebury said one of the most appealing parts of the program was the wide-range of skills it teaches. A 2017 graduate of Middlebury Union High School, Sylvain said she has learned valuable skills that, now that she has graduated, will help her land a job.
“I knew I wanted to do something that would broaden my horizons,” she said of the program. “Cool teachers make it all worthwhile.”
One of those cool teachers is Katy Arend, a summer work experience coordinator at ReSOURCE. Arend said that one of the most important parts of the program is that instructors create a genuine workplace environment where students can make mistakes.
She said one day a few students were acting unprofessional and she asked them to leave for the day and come back the next day. A few days later, when the students received their paychecks, they noticed they were paid less because they didn’t work the full day. She said this helped teach students how to behave in the workplace and how, unlike school, there are monetary repercussions as well.
“You get a chance to learn, you get a chance to improve your behavior. We give them more chances (than a traditional workplace) but not an excessive amount” she said. “They can experiment and feel safe knowing they can make mistakes and get feedback.”
At the end of the day, the feedback and training students receive is designed to provide them with the confidence they need to succeed. Participant Justin Jackson, 17, of Ripton said the program has helped him realize his goal of becoming a mechanic. Jackson, who has a speech impediment due to deafness in one ear, said that prior to the program he was nervous to work because he was afraid to speak with customers.
According to Arend, Jackson is one of the most talkative program participants. Now, after going through the program, he said he now feels more prepared to enter the workforce.
“I didn’t want to talk to customers because I didn’t want them to misunderstand me,” Jackson said. “I feel more confident.” 

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