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Today's youth, tomorrow's jobs: Engaging SE MI young people in career exploration

The TechShop
The TechShop

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There are 220,000 youth in Michigan who are considered "disconnected." This translates to roughly 17 percent of young adults ages 16 to 24 in Michigan who are jobless and not enrolled in any type of training or educational institution. This figure comes out of a recent national study published by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report goes on to say that this is a number that has increased since the year 2000, when it was closer to 13 percent.
At the same time that we are seeing youth employment in the United States at its lowest level since World War II, we are also hearing from Southeast Michigan's employers that they are having a devil of a time filling job openings.

"We have heard from several advanced manufacturing companies that often times youth are being discouraged from entering the industry, even though there are high-demand positions available," says Pat LeBlanc, SEMCA's Workforce Programs Manager: Youth.
"We have good paying jobs available, but I feel like the word is just not getting out to young people. They can make a good wage and stay in Michigan," says Vicki Robb, of United Precision Products, a manufacturer of specialized aerospace parts located in Dearborn Heights.
Last year Leblanc was receiving feedback from SEMCA's program providers that their clients wanted to have the opportunity to see first-hand what it would be like to work in certain professions. "The concept eventually evolved into career exploration activities in the Michigan Industry Clusters with group worksite tours incorporated," says LeBlanc. The result is the WIA Youth Career Exploration Tours.
LeBlanc has overseen SEMCA's Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Youth Program for the last year and a half. The federally-funded program assists people between the ages of 14 and 21 years of age in Monroe and out-Wayne Counties (excluding the City of Detroit) who are low-income and within one or more of the following categories: deficient in basic literacy skills; school dropout; homeless, runaway, or foster child; pregnant or parenting; offender; or is an individual (including a youth with a disability) who requires additional assistance to complete an educational program, or to secure and hold employment.

The first tour was held in January, and focused on advanced manufacturing. SEMCA took 30 participants to four places, including the TechShop in Allen Park, The Armored Group in Dearborn Heights, and the Alpha Group and Phillips Service Industries, both located in Livonia.
"This is a young man's game," Armored Group's Vice President of Manufacturing, Jerry Cooper, told the group that day, who had gathered around one of Armored's in progress jobs. "We arrive at 6:45am every day and put in a full day of welding, metal fabricating, and heavy lifting. We need to find people who are excited about putting in a full day's work," Cooper continued.

The Armored Group designs and fabricates armored vehicles for the US government and businesses that are located in volatile places around the world. "We know that our welds are saving lives," Cooper told the crowd. "We take great pride in our work and need to find people who will fit in with our team."
Welding is a skill that is very much in demand in Michigan right now. "We are fortunate, in Southeast Michigan, that all of our community colleges offer training for welding," says SEMCA's Manager of Workforce Development Programs, Susan Corey. "Monroe County Community College has been an excellent partner with SEMCA to train job seekers who want to enter this challenging field."
February's tour focused on IT jobs. Information Technology (IT) is the fastest growing field in Southeast Michigan.

"Our region actually has more IT jobs that Silicone Valley right now," commented Vladimir Mitic, Senior Web Developer at Marketing Associates, one of the businesses visited that day. "Dreams are not for sale. If you get some other, less qualified job, don't give up on your passion for IT!"
Mitic, who is also involved with IT in the D, would like to emphasize to people who have a passion for the IT field: "Keep going after [your dream], because the need for young people who like IT is definitely here in Detroit."

"Don't let not having a degree discourage you from trying to pursue a career in the IT field," Andrameda Durant, a member of Marketing Associate's Quality Assurance team, advised the youth who were on the tour that day. Durant explained how she has moved up with Marketing Associates by learning various computer languages and programs.
"The thing I love about Information Technology is the continuous learning. The tools and technology are constantly changing and improving, so keeping your skillset up to date and gaining new certifications and skillsets is an important goal to have when thinking of an IT career," explained Kerry Schaffer, MIS Manager at Marketing Associates.
"The response from participants has been positive," said LeBlanc. "They appreciate seeing different work environments and career options that are available to them."

The WIA Youth Career Exploration Tours will continue through the spring with Renewable Energy and Agriculture on March 28 and a Health Care tour on May 23.
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