More than a summer job

MARQUETTE – Several students in the central Upper Peninsula got a chance to learn first-hand what working in the career field of their choice would be like thanks to a Michigan Works! youth program that connects students with local employers.

The Michigan Works! Project-Based Summer Youth Work Experience looks each year for students in Marquette and Delta counties who are between the ages of 16 and 21.

“It’s project-based. It’s a work experience where they’re really getting a taste of their career choice,” said Sarah Johnson, a Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist at Michigan Works! in Marquette. “It’s not just a job flipping burgers over and over and over. It’s a real resume builder.”

Because the students are placed in work environments, students eligible for the program must be highly motivated and willing to go through extensive training prior to working at their sites.

“The students have been very, very well prepared for this,” Johnson said. “They have earned this opportunity by following through and showing up and being really, really quality people, and we are diligent in our efforts to come up with a really exceptional work site that matches their career interest and will give them a good understanding of the career they want to enter.”

This year, 22 youth were placed at 15 work sites during the summer. Participating employers included Classic Auto in Marquette and Escanaba, UPAWS, UP Children’s Museum, Chocolay Children’s Center, Noquemanon Trail Network, Northern Michigan University Summer College, Lego Robotics Camps at Bay Dickinson and Delta Counties, Delta Animal Shelter, Delta Conservation District, Bay Veterinary Clinic, Jerry Russell Auto Repair, Bonifas Arts Center and Schneider, Larche, Haapala & Co.

At the Noquemanon Trail Network, Marquette Senior High School student Gwyneth Harrick and NMU student Allie Johnson got a first-hand look at working in the field of public relations and event planning.

“The Michigan youth works program is a really beneficial summer program for everyone involved,” said Nicole Dewald, director of operations for the NTN. “A lot of kids will go and work in an ice cream shop or be a waitress and here, they get real-life experience in an office setting, in an events planning setting, and what’s the fun part about it is the networking and the social connections they make.

“They’re learning things that are going to help them when they do join the workforce,” she added.

Harrick – who spent her summer writing grants for the NTN, corresponding with Ore to Shore racers and dealing with customer service – said she’s already planning to volunteer for the organization following her internship.

“I’ve been writing grants for the NTN and although I only finished one of them, I think I’m going to volunteer my time when the internship is over so I can finish them, because writing is kind of my strong point,” said Harrick. “That’s what I enjoy the most, I think.”

Allie Johnson – who worked with owners of land the Ore to Shore race tracks run over and designed some kiosks at trail heads – said her biggest takeaway from the summer’s work experience will be in the ability to work independently. Learning how to teach herself how to complete a task, rather than relying on step-by-step instructions from her boss was key.

“I like that, being able to figure it out for myself,” Johnson said, adding the experience also cultivated an interest in mountain biking.

Sarah Johnson said the work sites are chosen based on the career interests of each student in the program.

“We do a lot of leg work to find a really good match for the employer and the youth,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure it’s a good experience for everybody involved.”

Johnson said the work-experiences typically last seven weeks and each youth is paid minimum wage by MI Works!. She also said the youth work experience cannot displace the regular job of a business or organization’s employees.

“Michigan Works! is a demand-driven system that focuses on not only talent acquisition, but talent development,” Johnson said in an email. “Developing the skills sets of our future workforce is essential to ensure that a talent pipeline is available to meet our regional business needs. Providing opportunities to youth to explore careers of interest, to comprehend the importance of soft skills, to explore on site work experiences and to develop a solid career path is the foundation of our youth services.”

Once the work experience is completed, students then get help from Michigan Works! in updating their resumes and also can get help in conducting a job search, should they like to do that.

For more information on the program call 228-3075.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.