Hiring managers agree it is critical to expose younger students to high-demand careers such as engineering or industrial maintenance, especially as many industries grapple with a shortage of skilled workers. A key barrier in the pursuit, however, has been finding a way to provide work-based learning to students younger than 18.
While job shadowing and other career explorations give us a lot of inroads, nothing beats on-the-job experience for our teens. But until recently, manufacturers haven’t had an avenue to address risks like workers compensation issues when hiring younger students.
Now, through a partnership of staffing agency Adecco USA and the Kentucky Department of Education, our employers have new means for training their future workforce. Adecco’s Youth Employment Solutions (YES) takes the liability and risk off the employer, opening up new opportunities for 16- and 17-year-old students to work in more advanced settings and for employers to build their workforces.
Toyotomi America in Springfield is the first company in the Lincoln Trail region, and one of the first three in the Commonwealth, to implement YES.
Last week, three area youth started paid co-ops at Toyotomi, a Toyota supplier. Each is a student of Marion County Area Technology Center, a school that provides technical education and skills training to high school students in Marion and Washington counties.
“Our management is very supportive of student co-ops,” said Holly Brady, assistant manager of human resources at Toyotomi. “We’re hoping to grow our future workforce, and it’s important that we introduce students to our career opportunities before they go to college.”
Toyotomi, with 375 full-time employees, is addressing talent shortages in engineering, maintenance and tool and die.
“That’s the case throughout Kentucky,” added Megan Searles, client services manager with Adecco’s YES.
Each of the MCATC students will work three to four hours per day in a designated area.
Aaron Spalding, a Marion County High School student, for example, will work in maintenance and learn about workload scheduling, work instruction composition, spare part inventory control, safe work procedures and entry-level machine repair.
“I’m excited to get a feel for the work and learn more about it,” said Spalding, who wants to further his technical education after high school. “And it’s great that I can work part-time while I’m still going to school.”
Justin Doughty will work in quality assurance. He will learn how to complete measurements and other quality inspections as well as preparing pre-production and part approval documents.
Carloes Cabrales will be working in engineering and will use AutoCAD to assist with projects as well as assist with production cell audits and preparing work instructions and prepare facilities reports for scrap, down time and efficiency.
“It’s a great opportunity to have these students out in the workforce - they’re getting school credit, they’re earning money, they’re getting this great training opportunity,” said Amy Riney, college and career counselor at MCATC.
“We’re so happy with Toyotomi for stepping up and participating,” she said. “Many of our seniors don’t turn 18 until late in the school year, and they have missed out on opportunities like these even though they are smart, talented, skilled students who are eager to get into the workforce.”
Riney, along with MCATC principal Brandon Bardin and staff at the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail in Lebanon, worked with Toyotomi to arrange interviews with seven interested students and help the students prepare.
For the employer, YES is a way to work with students who have a good foundation from their core courses and an interest in the career, and it’s a tool that can lead to employing that student after they graduate.
Additionally, any employer that wants to provide work-based learning experiences can participate in YES.
We know we need to start the workforce pipeline younger. We know we need to reach students before they make their post-graduation plans. That’s going to require stepping out of our comfort zones, where many real-world career experiences simply aren’t available to those younger than 18.
It also will require strong partnerships. What’s happening in the Washington and Marion county area is a great example of such collaborations, and partners like Terri Thomas, client services manager at Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, deserve a lot credit for working to unite education and industry and connecting all the dots.
Education, business and industry, local officials and workforce development professionals coming together is exactly how we will meet the future talent needs of our employers and ensure future opportunities for entire communities throughout the Commonwealth.
Mary Taylor is an Industry Training and Development Specialist with the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education.