How could a workforce development program that has been running like a well-oiled machine for five years thrive and grow even during Corona Summer 2020? This year Workforce Lab stared down funding challenges, a plethora of Covid safety protocols, and a late-May greenlight for a June 1 start date. Against all those challenges, or as some would say, opportunities, Workforce Lab exceeded every expectation.
Workforce Lab is primarily a financial capability program for young high schoolers to exercise soft job skills in an environment that is shaped by the Gospel. The State of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity has identified soft job skills as the critical difference in those who succeed in their jobs and now offer credentials in these skills. Employers have stated they can train employees to do tasks, but basic skills like professionalism, appearance, attitude, and just showing up on time – lacking these, young adults quickly lose first jobs.
So every summer for eight weeks, young high school students are led to build the muscles that will help them move from financial literacy – knowing about checking and saving and gotta-go-to-work – to financial capability – where students actually open accounts, navigate financial institutions in person AND online, and face real financial consequences when expectations are not met.
Before 2020, this program was attended by ten or fewer students. This year 16 students were served and here is what they did:
- opened bank accounts
- completed a series of financial fitness bootcamps
- visited their bank and made deposits
- earned stipends and possibly lost stipends for infractions
- learned about applications, created resumes and practiced interviewing
- participated in pregnancy prevention workshops
- volunteered three days a week at other nonprofits
- explored careers
- attended etiquette lunches in Downtown Lakeland, and
- improved at least one milestone in their digital literacy.
Whew! AND the stipends these students earned all summer will be matched up to 60% when the students graduate on-time from high school. Enough good things cannot be said about their leaders, Trish Hogan and Connor Custodio. Not only were they faithful examples, they too were thrust into a world of directing students through all the above while enforcing mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and also leading in the disinfecting of materials, tables, chairs, and vans twice daily, between and after morning and afternoon cohorts.
Soft job skills
Don’t just take our word for it – check out these student reflections from one offsite worksites, Lighthouse Ministries:
- While sorting through the clothes for their thrift store, it made me realize how good my life is and made me more thankful. -S.
- It was fun going to Lighthouse and being able to see how they give people in their program chances to work. –C.
- We laid mulch out on the playground so that the kids in daycare could play safely. -E.
The why of workforce development during this Coronavirus summer
Why Workforce Lab? Why during a pandemic? These students faced a summer with very little options for employment and socialization. With few distractions, Workforce Lab became a healthy, paying summer activity, a team bonding experience, AND an opportunity to learn truths about their bodies, minds, emotions, and souls! Finally, $5,000 from Libertore Fund for Children has been set aside to match the stipends earned during this Corona Summer. Students will receive these final funds when they graduate from high school and will represent a positive memory from summer 2020.
Thank you to CareerSource Polk, Libertore Fund for Children, Options for Women, Florida Prosperity Partnership, and individual donors that made what could have been a long, lonely summer into an impactful time for these young people.
-Kim Schell, Chief Operating Officer and Staff Advocate for Financial Sustainability