For high school seniors, it’s all too easy to focus on the good times during that final year of adolescence. Yearbooks are signed, memories are made at prom, and graduation caps are enthusiastically tossed toward the sky.
It’s hard to imagine life afterward, but soon, the harsh reality of adulthood is dropped upon teens like a grenade. They’re forced to either hastily select a college major, ultimately deciding on their life’s career at 18, or claw their way into the workforce with little-to-no experience.
To bridge this gap, Bucks County Community College gives local teens a taste of the “real world” through its semester-long In-School Youth Workforce Training Program. Seniors can test the waters of various jobs, learn interviewing skills at the Gene and Marlene Epstein Campus at Lower Bucks in Bristol, and obtain paid work experience.
This year, the training program, which is funded through the Bucks County Workforce Development Board, helped a total of 65 students. On Thursday, May 23, in the Student Commons Area of the Lower Bucks Campus, located at 1304 Veterans Highway, 16 seniors hailing from Conwell-Egan, Bensalem and Bristol high schools were recognized for completing the spring semester of the program.
Conor Sweeney, a Bensalem resident who recently graduated from Conwell-Egan, was the student speaker at the graduation ceremony. Through the Workforce Training Program, Sweeney not only landed a paid position at Allied Electronics in Bristol Borough, he earned certifications that are out of reach for many adults.
“It interested me because it was a big opportunity for me to get further in my trade. They offer OSHA training and CPR training and basic interviewing and job skills. It was a really good opportunity for me at a young age to get such good knowledge and a certification that I can have forever,” Sweeney said. “OSHA 10 is something that not even my dad has, and he’s been doing a trade for over 30 years.”
Sweeney was referred to the program by Shane Roxberry, who runs Conwell-Egan’s Center for Student Leadership. This was the school’s first year partnering with the Workforce Training Program, which is coordinated by Christine Harvie, and Sweeney was able to snag one of the final spots for the spring semester.
“We already have over a handful of students who are interested in doing the program next year, so that’s both a testament to the program that Christine puts on, the great work that they do and the great work that Conor did being a representative of the school,” Roxberry said.
According to Harvie, this is the program’s first year branching out to the entire county, with fall graduates hailing from the Academy at Quakertown, Upper Bucks County Technical School and William Tennent High School.
For Harvie, it’s been a thrill to educate and prepare more students than ever for the next chapter of their lives.
“The program focuses on career acquisition and retention, but we start the program with career assessment activities and career exploration,” she said. “We like to expose the students to as many options as possible and take them on industry tours so they can see careers in action.”
Participants meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Epstein Campus, where they hear from guest speakers, receive help with the college admissions process (if applicable), and tour companies such as Levittown’s CSC Sugar to see what job opportunities are available. Once they’re back in the classroom, teens are invited to hone their occupational skills.
“We teach the students how to use tools, just to see if they enjoy working with their hands and if that’s a good fit for them. If that comes naturally for them, then maybe that’s a career pathway they might consider,” Harvie said. “They learn how to solder, they learn woodworking, they learn how to use some hand tools and power tools.”
Since the program is grant-funded, all of the certifications, including OSHA 10, CPR and forklift training (for those 18 years and older), are offered at no cost. Also free are the classes, which provide vital interviewing tips and resume-building dos and don’ts. Students can then utilize these skills during the paid work experience component of the program, which allows them to connect with a mentor in the community and try out a career.
“They build confidence practicing those skills. It’s nerve-wracking going into an interview, but you need to prep for it. That’s what we’re trying to teach the students, that this is important for their future. We’re trying to teach them how to be self-sufficient and teach them about professionalism, and it’s a lot of fun. We love what we do,” Harvie said. “It’s good for students who maybe have senioritis or are maybe considering dropping out of school. This gives them an option that’s different and kind of exciting.”
Harvie stressed that there’s no right or wrong way to decide on a career path, something that’s stressed to all students.
“Everyone does it differently and sometimes it doesn’t work out how you planned, and that’s normal,” she said. “We tell them our stories about changes in majors or changes in careers, and let them know it’s OK because there’s a lot of pressure on high school students to pick a major and make these future decisions. They feel like it’s one and done.”
Through the program, Sweeney was able to determine that he does, in fact, want to follow in his father’s footsteps and pick up a trade. He will attend Pennco Technical School in the fall, then enter the workforce directly after.
“I always have the option to go back to college if I want to for anything else,” Sweeney said. “It’s been a good opportunity to really see if I like it.” ••
Visit facebook.com/bucksyouthwf for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org