Here's help for honing job-seeking skillsWith 2-year-old twin boys at home, Shanise Parker, 20, said she views motherhood as her profession. But as she struggled this year to land a paying job, she encountered a roadblock.
With 2-year-old twin boys at home, Shanise Parker, 20, said she views motherhood as her profession. But as she struggled this year to land a paying job, she encountered a roadblock.
“The number one issue was employers asking me things during interviews like, ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ and I would have to really think about it for a while before trying to answer,” said Parker, who is still filling out applications. “Now I know to be prepared beforehand for all those kind of questions.”
The source of Parker’s new interviewing-savvy skills was the 2011 Summer Youth and Teen Parent Programs. Held by the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training, the eight weekly classes from June 22 to Aug. 10 were designed to accomplish two goals: help at-risk youth and teen parents complete high school and advance to post-secondary education, or help ease their transition to work.
The program has been running for more than 30 years. It served 74 youths in Aitkin, Cook, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis Counties this year. Of those and including Parker, 12 meet once a week in Duluth.
The program fit the office’s “earn and learn” mantra. Many of the program’s youth, all ages 14 to 21, were paired with jobs at places like the YWCA or school libraries before the program began. The youth earn wages while they learn valuable employment skills on-the-job and at the classes, said Candis McQueen, the Duluth and Cloquet area supervisor for the Office of Job Training.
Throughout the eight weeks, the group tackled what McQueen called “the world of work” — topics including filling out timesheets and applications, the importance of following directions, teamwork, managing conflict, punctuality, interviewing and making good financial decisions.
First impressions were covered first, with participants sharing their first
impressions of each other and of the office’s career counselors.
“The youth need to be aware of their own first impressions and change them as needed — for example, how they dress, present themselves, answer questions or follow through,” McQueen said. She said the exercise provided a platform to discuss what is and what is not insulting, and to show how first impressions work, regardless of whether they are fair or unfair.
During the last class, the youth simulated work on a production line by sharing the steps of stuffing different brands of candy into paper bags. As they worked, a few were given notes with different scenarios written on them.
Parker sat out for a couple minutes after she was handed a note saying that her child was sick and needed to go to the hospital — but only after asking permission from career counselor Rita Olness, who was acting as the production line’s supervisor.
“The purpose of the activity was, ‘What would you do?’ Things like this happen in real life during real jobs,” Olness said.
At another point, the group ran out of candy Dots to put into the bags.
“Do you have plenty of imperfect products or fewer perfect products?” career counselor Missy Lancour asked the group. “It’s management’s decision. Follow management’s lead.”
Lancour integrated more modern aspects of today’s work world during another class. She taught the youth about iseek.org, an online career, education and job resource for Minnesotans. The group learned how to use the website to look up job duties, titles and labor market information, and completed a personality profile.
Although the weekly classes are over, some students will continue working limited hours into the school year. McQueen said this was because part-time employment often strengthens the relationship between school studies and work.
“We see time and time again that youth who are employed do better in school. It gives them a feeling of confidence and involvement,” said McQueen.
In the end, the office has one vision through the program.
“We want to assist in the development of a quality workforce,” she said.