What are the skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace, and how can a high school student acquire them?
These are the questions to be answered in June, when Pinkerton Academy partners with two community colleges to introduce the WorkReady program to the Derry campus. While WorkReady has hosted high schoolers before, Pinkerton is the first school to invite the program on campus, and to give it its own spin.
Career Coordinator Doug Cullen and representatives of two colleges recently met to discuss the initiative.
Cullen said WorkReady is a national program several years old, in which a curriculum, WorkKeys, is deployed to help displaced and new workers acquire the “soft skills” they need, including interviewing, how to dress and basic math. The program was developed by a company called ACT and has been in New Hampshire for about a decade, he said. Originally, the community colleges used the program to help displaced workers, particularly those in the mill and manufacturing industry who saw their jobs go overseas, go South, or be replaced by automation.
“It was originally for older guys who worked in the same plant for 30 years, and then the mill closed,” Cullen explained.
In New Hampshire, 2,100 people have gone through WorkReady, Cullen said.
While the program was not designed for youths, Manchester Community College (MCC) has had high school students take the course on campus. But Cullen had a broader vision: bringing WorkReady to Pinkerton.
“We have a whole profile of students who would fit the description,” he said. “Why not become more proactive, before they become that 50-year-old displaced worker?”
The Pinkerton program will begin this year on June 23, and students who qualify will attend for three weeks, Cullen said. But there’s more: Pinkerton is developing a job-shadow program as a component of the course, and there will also be field trips to Manchester Community College, Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, and Great Bay’s manufacturing arm, Great Bay Advanced Technology and Academic Center, which trains students in composite materials manufacturing.
Who qualifies? Cullen said the staff is currently working on a “qualification metric.” While it wasn’t finalized at press time, Cullen said the ideal student for WorkReady would be “not a discipline problem; possibly one who struggles academically but has a great attitude, a desire to work and a desire to develop skills.” With 3,200 students, that profile shouldn’t be hard to match, he said. The program as structured will require a minimum of 12 participants.
Students who complete the national program will receive “WorkReady” certification on the levels of bronze, silver, gold and platinum, he said.
Jennifer Scotland DeCampo, workforce director for WorkReady New Hampshire, said the program has been a success with older displaced workers. “Fifty percent of our people are over 40,” she said. But it’s also reached younger people, with Portsmouth participants ranging from 19 to 77. The Manchester program has had people as old as 81, she said, adding, “They’re training for their third or fourth career. It’s the first time we’ve had four generations in the workplace.”
The biggest piece, according to Scotland DeCampo, is, “We don’t teach. We facilitate. We open your eyes to the valuable skills you already have, so you can show your employer you’re a rock star.”
There’s been a younger worker “drain” in New Hampshire, she said, and this program helps show the importance of younger people to the workforce.
It’s a confidence booster for young people, Scotland DeCampo said, noting, “They need to show that they have energy, are willing to learn, can invest themselves in a company and stay a long time.”
Kathy Desroche, director of workforce development for Manchester Community College, said the so-called “soft skills” are an issue. “People don’t know how to show up on time, how to dress for work,” she said.
The cornerstone of the WorkReady program is starting a small company on paper, she said. “They create a job, a job description, they interview for the job, they create policies. They develop marketing and practice customer service,” she said.
“Every campus does it a little differently, but we all have the mock business and go through scenarios,” Scotland DeCampo said. “The class is not ‘death by lecture and PowerPoint.'”
The program trains in the soft skills and also assesses a participant’s level of math, reading and problem-solving, she said.
Desroche said MCC runs a summer program for teenagers. Scotland DeCampo said Great Bay works with three high schools in the Seacoast area, offering an ELO (Extended Learning Opportunity) and a half credit. But the Pinkerton program is the first time a high school “dove in” and added its own components, she said, noting, “It’s a value-added version of our program.”
“It’s difficult for us to do the support piece,” she said. “That Pinkerton is willing to do it – that’s fantastic.”
Scotland DeCampo added that just as there is no age restriction, there’s no education restriction: “We’ve had people with GEDs, we’ve had people with master’s degrees.” But a candidate will need a sixth-grade reading level and “basic” math skills, she added.
Who’s paying? MCC gets grant money for its part of the program, while Pinkerton will fund the job shadowing and college field tour, Cullen said.