Education and Employment Go Hand In Hand At Y.O.U.

Y.O.U. Director Karen Carlisle answers questions from the crowd at United Way's Pop Up Giving event in March.

There’s a common misconception that today’s teenagers aren’t interested in jobs, said Karen Carlisle, Director of Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) in Kalamazoo.

The hundreds of applications that flood Y.O.U’s MyCITY summer youth employment program each year, however, tell a different story.

“So often, we hear today that young people just don’t want to work,” Carlisle said. “It’s not that students don’t want to work, it’s that they need to have an opportunity provided to them, and they need to have that place where they can learn and grow.”

Y.O.U, a Kalamazoo RESA program, gives youth that chance each summer – in Kalamazoo, and now in Battle Creek as well.

That commitment to youth struck a chord with Pop Up Giving (PUG) attendees last month, who voted to award the night’s donation pot – more than $4,000 – to the organization. With the extra funds, MyCITY (Career Introduction and Training for Youth) will be able to serve more students, Carlisle said.

MyCITY Kalamazoo, in its 13th year, grew significantly in 2017. The program employed 371 youths ages 14-18, a three-fold increase over 2016. Those students earned a total of $387,324 in wages and benefits. MyCITY Battle Creek launches this summer with offerings for ages 14-15.

Students in the Kalamazoo program have their choice of three different pathways: Career 101, Career 2.0 or CareerNOW.

Career 101 offers basic job skills to youth ages 14-15. Students earn money by joining work crews that tackle neighborhood beautification and landscape projects, identified by neighborhood associations or the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Department. The skills the students learn on the job are reinforced in a classroom setting, where they also have career exploration opportunities.

“They’re learning basic work skills, getting along, how to communicate with one another, why it’s important to be on time – a lot of soft skills,” Carlisle said. “They’re also learning about what it means to take care of your neighborhood.”

In Career 2.0, for ages 16-18, youth are placed at a job site for the summer to gain experience in fields such as child care, retail, research, maintenance, sustainable food, creative arts and web design. They also continue career exploration, learn how skills can be transferrable, and set long-term goals.

CareerNOW, added in 2017, will now offer training for individuals between the ages of 18-21 who are ready to transition into the workforce. The track includes technical training in a number of fields, soft skills training, internships, job placement assistance and supportive services. Students also take Talent Tours, visiting various companies to see the different types of jobs the area has to offer.

Participants in all three tracks earn wages, and some can also earn credit toward high school graduation.

“We’re working very hard to make sure youth understand how education and employment are interconnected. Education and learning is going to continue throughout their entire career. They’re going to need to be growing,” Carlisle said.

“It’s so crucial that we have these programs available for individuals to gain work skills,” she added. “We need to be starting early to prepare that pipeline so we can have a robust community and be economically strong.”

Y.O.U. is funded in part by United Way as a long-term strategy for transitioning more households into economic stability.

To learn more about Y.O.U.’s MyCITY program visit their website or visit Y.O.U on Facebook.