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Employment program helps young people discover careers, find work

When Robert J., a high school graduate, came to the Youth Jobs and Career Program at the United South End Settlements here, he was unemployed. Now he is now deciding between two carrer options. A local insurance company executive is trying to get him into a salesman's program with his company, and a lawyer has offered to help him with admissions to college.

Ken Wade, USES's coordinator of youth services, is proud of the program's "brightest star." But he speaks just as proudly of the 130 other teen-agers -- some poor school achievers, many unemployed, all from low income families -- who are discovering careers, learning to fill out job applications, preparing for job interviews, and getting a foot in the door of the job market.

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Young people in the Boys' Clubs of Boston World of Work program are involved in a different experimental component -- called Job Search. After being taught to fill out applications and write resumes, they are learning to search out jobs themselves. Thus far, according to Chris Kinglsey, the success rate is about 90 percent.

"A lot of businesses get turned off the minute they hear 'program' -- they assume that if a kid needs a program to get a job the kid is second rate," says Mr. Kingsley. With Job Search, young people themselves get on the phone and call the employer.

"They've had some practice prior to getting on the telephone in terms of what they're going to say -- kind of a sales pitch for themselves -- so that by the time they get through to the personnel officer, all the personnel office knows is here's this together kid on the other end of the phone who's doing the job hunting on his own and really sounds sharp. We've found a lot of places that wouldn't touch us when we went in as a program are snatching the kids like crazy when they do this job search thing."

In El Paso, Texas, Sylvia Cuellar, a teacher and adviser to a Future Homemakers of America chapter, is proud of 30 teen-agers learning mass production and assembly line techniques used in the clothing industry. The students are diagnosed as learning disabled, mentally retarded, or physically handicapped. The daily three-hour class is taught in English, Spanish, and sign language. But they will find jobs waiting for them after graduation from the program, thanks to the involvement and support of local industry.

There projects are three of 124 test projects of the Youth Employment Program. Funded by the Department of Labor, the program is run by the National Collaboration for Youth, whose 13 member agencies include Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Camp Fire Inc., Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., and the National Board of YMCAs.

With a seasonably adjusted youth unemployment rate of 19.3 percent in February, it is not surprising that young people want to get involved with the program. Currently, according to the Deparment of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1,762,000 young people age 16 to 19 are unemployed.

"Everyone's concern is jobs," says Ken Wade. "Any time you have a program that is helping or somehow centered around youth employment, you generally don't have too much trouble with recruitment. The first day we went out with leaflets we left around noon. When we got back to the office about 3 three kids were already there waiting for us. It was just that quick."

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NCY program director John Wood points out that the very nature of youth organizations adds an impact to the projects they've developed.

"Having worked in the public sector, I believe that a youth worker, an individual one-on-one worker where it's a voluntary relationship, is more effective in helping someone than a bureaucrat caseworker in a government agency where there's always the element of requirements, compulsion, and suspicion involved. A kid with a series of problems is far more likely to put his trust in a YMCA outreach worker than he is a Welfare Department caseworker, or a CETA, or what have you."

In Beverly, Mass., Ruth Olivares of Project Rap tells enthusiastically of eight Hispanic youths involved in a program called Unlimited Potential. They are learning entrepreneurial skills, program development, and public relations skills, and peer education skills to teach others. They are even raising money for youth employment projects by acting as sales agents for a local craftsman who makes decorative desk nameplates.

She talks of support meeting held each week and hints at the trust the youths have in the program.

"So far the most important thing they have found out is all that they didn't know," she says. "Once you identify what you don't know the next step is just to learn it. We have people here who can teach them those things so long as they know they need to learn."

She points out the motto the group has chosen: "Everyone has unlimited potential. Let's find it."

Former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall first saw the value of blending federal funds with the already existing network of youth-serving organizations, says Mr. Wood. The Youth Employment Program resulted from a series of meetings the National Collaboration for Youth had with Mr. Marshall on the subject of youth employment. Asked what they were doing in the area. NCY members listed the programs they already had going.

"It blew the minds of the people in the Department of Labor, especially because we were doing it withhout federal funds, or with few federal funds," says Mr. Wood. "Whoever heard of doing something without federal funds!"

Roland Brack of the Department of Labor's Office of Youth admits the department was surprised. But they quickly decided that by joining forces in a one-year program they might provide information on how such projects could be continued and new ones developed. Rather than being a blanket infusion of money , he says, the program will teach local agencies how to work with local CETA sponsors or with nonfederal funding.

While he isn't sure if the $10 million program is the first of its kind, he calls it "probably one of the most major projects we've done involving the private sector."

Already the program is bearing fruit, and its organizers hope the expertise gained this first year will be of help to others.

One high school principal has no doubts that the Youth Employment Program should continue. His comment to Mr. Wood: "Three of our kids have been in this program, and we've seen more improvement in their attitudes and performance in the last three weeks than in three years. How do we get more of our kids in the program?"

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