LEWISTOWN - Adam English, a senior at Mifflin County High School, first learned about the Bridges to the Future program during his time on parole four years ago. Only 14 years old at the time, Adam wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life or even what he was good at.
Things changed when he joined Bridges to the Future, a local youth career services program, leading to his recent acceptance at Pennsylvania College of Technology.
"I didn't have any work experience and I wasn't sure where to start," Adam said. "The program taught me how to fill out applications and answer interview questions. Each summer they helped me with job placement until I started at Lake Chevrolet and learned I wanted to go into collision repair."
When students like Adam first come to the program they have a difficult time defining their skills and relating to a future career, said Mike McMonigal, workforce specialist with Bridges to the Future. The goal, as they continue through high school, is to develop work experience through job placement and determine a possible career path, he said.
"We start recruiting students during their sophomore year so they can begin collecting general work experience," McMonigal said. "As juniors they focus on career exploration and we place them in a job related to a field of interest. By senior year, the students are about to enter the workforce or continue on to college, so a lot of time is spent on resumes, networking and soft job skills."
For example, while working at Lake Chevrolet's Body Center, Adam got his first experience working with bedliners, mixing paints and prepping cars for the painting process. As he learned how to work with the paint, determining proper measurements and watching professionals during the process, he knew he'd found his future career.
Adam has continued cultivating his knowledge and skills at the Mifflin Juniata Career and Technology Center. He plans to start at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in August, specializing in collision repair and detailing.
"I might have gotten into Penn Tech by myself, but I wouldn't have known anything or had any experience," Adam said. "Thanks to Bridges to the Future, I know what I'm good at and what to expect at college. One day, I'd like to work in a body shop as the paint and detail specialist."
Bridges to the Future is part of the Central Pennsylvania In-School Youth Program, funded by the Workforce Investment Act, said Deborah Harpster, workforce programs coordinator with Mifflin County CareerLink. Open to any high school student in Mifflin County, the program prepares youth for the transition to employment and/or higher education, she said.
"Bridges to the Future has been around for three years now, assisting students on a year round basis with skill, resume and career development as well as a summer job placement component," Harpster said. "Essentially, we place the students and we pay the wages. If the employer can provide them with 30 hours of work per week, we pay their wages for six to eight weeks during the summer."
The program also includes an orientation process before the first day of work to discuss expectations and go over soft skills like filling out time sheets, how to call out sick, communicating with the employer and acceptable behavior in the workplace, Harpster said.
"Once the job begins, we constantly check in with the employer and the student to see how things are progressing," Harpster said. "Things will differ slightly depending on if the student is younger and just gaining general experience or if the student is older and has been placed in a career specific position."
Jason Lynn, now a junior in the program, learned about Bridges to the Future during an assembly at Mifflin County High School. He gained his first job experience last summer as a maintenance worker at Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp. Though the job might not lead to a future career, it was a valuable learning experience, Jason said.
"I'm not sure what I want to do in the future, but the job gave me a better understanding of what I could do and some things I'm good at," Jason said. "It was a great hands-on experience and I learned a lot from the other people working there."
Bridges to the Future is an excellent resource for any student who isn't sure how to find a job or even where to start, Jason said. The program provides a direction for kids who aren't sure what they want to do, he added.
The Workforce Investment Act also funds a local Out of School Youth Program called Get2Work, helping students after high school, from ages 18 to 21, find a permanent job, said Wendy Barton, workforce specialist with Get2Work.
"I work with the kids on a consistent basis and place them in a temporary paid work experience," Barton said. "They work about 240 hours total with 208 at the job site and 32 with me to develop their resume, interview experience and job skills. The goal is to place them in a permanent job after the work experience is complete."
Work placement through the Get2Work program is dependent on GED completion and the levels of basic math and reading skills, Barton said. However, since the program is part of CareerLink, participants have the opportunity to attend GED classes as well as Career Pathway classes to assure eventual job placement, she added.
"The Get2Work program puts unemployed youth on the path to work ready experience while developing the skills needed to obtain a job, keep a job and compete in today's market," Barton said.
For general information on Bridges to the Future or Get2Work, visit the Mifflin County Youth Program Facebook page. For information about Bridges to the Future summer job placement, contact Mike McMonigal at 348-6180 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about Get2Work after school job placement, contact Wendy Barton at 348-3228 or email@example.com.