Helping Young People Find Their DNA

According to Jack Carey, president of Carey Manufacturing outside Hartford, the biggest loss for manufacturing in Connecticut was Pratt & Whitney ending their apprenticeship program, which had brought a steady supply of new talent to their sector. Now his small firm struggles to find young people with the “DNA” to succeed in manufacturing: an interest in how machines work, curiosity to learn new technologies and techniques, and a sense of ownership of the quality of their work.
To address staff shortages and an aging workforce, Carey Manufacturing and Floyd Manufacturing (they share a facility in the Hartford suburbs) reached out to Our Piece of the Piece and Hartford Job Corps.

Their partnership and steady stream of hiring formerly disconnected youth eventually led to their recognition by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions as Young Adult Employer Champions.
I was able to join a tour of the Carey/Floyd facility earlier this month led by Soneil Henry. Soneil (pictured elsewhere in this issue) had been exploring a healthcare track at Hartford Job Corps but discovered in a very hands-on way his discomfort with drawing blood. Job Corps afforded him the chance to explore several different options and, upon learning of the earning potential in manufacturing, settled on a short-term program that got him hired at Floyd Manufacturing. He later spoke, along with his colleagues Millie Ramirez and Patricia Cancho, about their different paths to manufacturing. While all faced barriers to employment, including poor prior educational experiences, Soneil, Millie, and Patricia are superstars: each possess very high levels of self-confidence, motivation to work, adaptability, and charisma. As I often wonder in such situations, I left Carey/Floyd thinking about how their stories would have been different if they possessed lower levels of self-efficacy or resilience, or hadn’t outwardly projected the “go get it” attitude the HR director for Carey had said they prize, the “DNA” for manufacturing.

One theme for me that came out of tabletop conversations at the convening of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions’ Young Adult Sectoral Initiative was the hunger for job shadowing and other forms of short-term, low-risk work exploration: too often neither K-12 schools, community colleges, nor youth providers see it as their job or feel incentivized to provide these services. If firms are hiring based on “attitude not aptitude,” having the “DNA” for a field, or seeing a “red thread” running through a young person’s experiences that point toward their sector (all phrases that came up during the convening), how are we ensuring young people find the path that excites them most? If employers are prepared to train for hard skills, as they often say they are, what kinds of experiences and trainings will ensure young people find good job fit and arrive ready to learn and interact on the job?

In addition to the deep-dive into the Hartford sectoral ecosystem, the convening included peer learning and sharing among the 14 participating communities. I was impressed by the range and depth of their efforts, and how they’re devising innovative solutions to advance the work. A few examples include:

• Partner4Work (the Pittsburgh-area workforce board) has developed an app that teaches and reinforces work readiness skills, and another that engages aptitudes critical to technology careers.

• Bradenton/Sarasota County (Florida) CareerEdge Funders Collaborative is actively engaged in a variety of efforts to increase FAFSA completion in the region. As a result, the county was named – for the second year in a row – tops in the state for FAFSA completion.

• Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative (Mississippi) has created a pathway into community-college training in health care and manufacturing careers for young adults with a fifth-grade reading level, including utilizing Pell Ability-to-Benefit provisions.
Back in Washington, it appears we may have a confirmed Secretary of Labor by the end of the day today, and hopefully an agreement to fund the government through the end of next week around the same time. Despite all the uncertainty here, I hope you’ll weigh in on what you’d like to see in DC when you come to the Forum, via the survey that we have up. We are close to finalizing a (great) venue and dates for the Forum.

I hope that you find the other resources and job announcements in YouthNotes valuable. As always, if you have any feedback or questions, or just want to chat, you can find me at