Summer Bounty: A Wealth of Opportunity with Partner 4 Work

A string of recent grants and awards has put Partner4Work on a new footing toward expanding career education opportunities through extensive partnerships with regional career & technical education centers, education service agencies, and nonprofits supporting learners preparing to join the workforce.

Susie Puskar

When last we spoke with Susie Puskar, she was excited to share general information about workforce development in our region. Her organization, Partner4Work, has recently been awarded a number of exciting grants, so we called her up to learn more about new opportunities for young people in Allegheny County to learn, earn, and build their professional networks.

How have you been able to expand your partnerships with Career and Technical Education centers?

We received a $79,000 grant for summer internships through the State and Local Internship program, which is a state-funded program supporting our partnerships with AW Beattie and Parkway West. These two CTE centers serve students in the northern suburbs and western parts of Allegheny County. The grant provides funding for students to be paid for their work in summer internships. Each student will earn at minimum $10.15 per hour working full-time in fields like IT, healthcare, or automotive technology. These are STEM careers and high-growth fields, and the students get opportunities to practice the skills they learn in the classroom and build their resume while expanding their professional networks. This is a great way for high school students to graduate with an even bigger leg up, since CTE students are already graduating with credentials beyond their high school diploma.

And you have also been awarded an opportunity with CMU?

We just received $191,000, also from the state, for the Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Robotics Technology Extended Reach (SMARTER) program with CMU. The grant is meant to help train both staff members and youth at the year-round programs we fund focused on tangible occupational skills related to fields of technology, robotics, and electronics. This program helps the staff and the participating youth understand the career pathways available in these fields, what skills they’ll need in order to obtain those jobs.

SMARTER is a fantastic program. The curriculum has already been developed and run by CMU and we are extending its reach. Their program has partnerships with high schools across southwest PA and nationally and we will help them take this programming and make it available to a more non-traditional audience in the form of students in programs where they may have dropped out of high school or graduated but need some assistance connecting with post-secondary education or the workforce.

Part of the program involves students and program staff traveling to businesses throughout the county to learn what jobs are available to individuals with the skills the youth are learning. Participants can really experience how their skills are applied in the workforce.

The really exciting part about SMARTER is how the capacity for the program keeps building. Since the case managers will be learning the curriculum, they’ll have the skills to be able to teach those modules after they’ve completed this initial program and they can access support from CMU to help additional students. We hope to leverage this pilot for years to come!

Are you continuing to pair businesses with educators to help relay the skills high school graduates need to succeed in the workforce?

Yes! The PA Department of Labor and Industry awarded us $180,000 in Business Education Partnership funding.

For this program, we will work with high school juniors in 5 public school districts. Right now, we have partnerships with PNC, UPMC, and FedEx–these business partners will deliver curriculum directly to students focusing on work readiness and soft skills training. These are volunteers from the workforce teaching youth the skills they need to succeed in any job they might have.

Then, their senior year, these students who have either self-identified or worked with guidance counselors to identify as not going on to post-secondary education immediately following high school can partner with these companies to identify a career pathway and the courses and skills to build during their senior year of high school. They can then apply for and be hired by PNC, UPMC, or FedEx directly from high school. These businesses have scanned their job descriptions and identified those positions available to people with a high school diploma. The consortium is working with schools to ensure that students who otherwise might have fallen off after high school are connected into this program so they can build these networks and get into the hiring process for these jobs.

Another component of the grant is to connect current students with opportunities to learn more about CTE and the careers or post secondary educational options availble to them. This might look like career fairs for high school freshmen to visit CTE centers to learn about the available programs, or perhaps bringing current CTE students into elementary school classrooms to teach children about what they’re learning and they can serve as peer mentors.

In Governor Wolf’s latest budget, he set aside $50 million to fund programs pairing employers with educational institutions to prepare students for high-demand jobs. How will Partner4Work be part of that initiative?

We were awarded two educator in the workplace grants from the state Department of Labor and Industry. Both the Consortium for Public Education in Western PA and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit will pair educators with local businesses. The teachers will visit the businesses in teams, and hear from the employees themselves what opportunities are there and what skills and educational components are required for each job.

The idea behind this opportunity is that, in many cases, teachers go right from high school into an education program at college, directly into student teaching, and then into their classrooms. Often, teachers are unfamiliar with the growth and differences in, for instance, healthcare careers, that has happened in the past 10-15 years.

This partnership is more than just a visit or a field trip: the teachers come back and discuss what they saw and create lesson plans around that, and then return a few months later to discuss how they’ve implemented the lessons in their classes, how better understanding workforce realities has changed their teaching.

It’s exciting that our state is supporting your work!

We think this funding is a great focus for our governor–making sure youth are well-compensated for their time and the work they are doing is a critical piece of our mission.

Published July 09, 2018

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