Heather Johnson (top) turned her job as a waitress at Jenny Leigh’s Country Cookin’ into a paid internship, allowing her to gain work-based experience and earn academic credit, while she was attending Mountain View Jr./Sr. High School. Smarkusky Busing owner Bill Smarkusky (above, left) and student intern Dominic Lenz repair brake lines on a school bus at the West Nicholson business. Lenz is a Lackawanna Trail High School graduate and now works as a welder.
The Northern Tier Industry & Education Consortium (NTIEC) is rebranding one of its primary programs. To better align program terminology with the PA Department of Education, the NTIEC has separated paid/unpaid internships from the organization’s traditional Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP). The paid/unpaid internships will now become part of the School-to-Work (STW) program.
The STW program will be geared towards high school juniors and seniors interested in specific lines of work or just looking to get some experience in a work environment for one to two years. The YAP will focus on paid worksite learning placements aligned with an industry recognized apprentice program (e.g. – Procter & Gamble). This program usually lasts for two years. Students involved in both programs can earn while they learn, and participating businesses are eligible for a tax credit.
“This differentiation better fits the organization’s mission to create a highly-skilled workforce in Northeastern Pennsylvania through the integration of school employment and training processes,” NTIEC educational coordinator Deb Tierney explained.
Act 158, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2018, decreased the state’s reliance on high-stakes tests as graduation requirements and offered new formulas to gauge a high school senior’s readiness for continued education or a more direct move into the workforce.
Specifically, Option #4, addressing local grade requirements and tiered career readiness options, puts NTIEC in the driver’s seat for pairing schools and students with quality work-based learning activities.
In addition to the tax credit, participating employers benefit in other ways. Because of the increased entry-level skills, the learning curve for new employees is much shorter. Qualified employees are hired more quickly and turnover is down, as is the cost for workforce training. In addition to partnerships with corporations in the region, NTIEC staff maintains first-contact relationships with many smaller, local employers.
School bus company owner Bill Smarkusky appreciated the opportunity to show intern Dominic Lenz his own way of doing things. “Each business owner has their own protocol and, sometimes, the programs and certifications at tech schools and other higher-education facilities don’t match what we need,” Smarkusky explained.
Lenz had already worked part of a summer with the company, so Smarkusky was familiar with the student’s strong work ethic. Lenz appreciated guidance, Smarkusky noted, but he liked to work on his own. “I’d give him a four- or five-hour project and, when he came back to me, it was done right.”
Lenz started by cleaning buses and quickly became accomplished at other tasks like lubrication, summer maintenance, mounting tires and changing out a hydraulic brake line from the front of the bus to the back. “I’m all about helping kids out who continuously want to learn more,” Smarkusky remarked.
The current challenge, Tierney noted, is getting the word out about the programs. School administrators are understandably busy right now just trying to link returning students with their respective curricula.
Making students and their parents aware of the STW program is NTIEC’s primary goal. Students can continue working at a current place of employment, or NTIEC staff can match students with an employer that meets their interests. In addition, they work hand-in-hand with the student’s guidance counselor to find the best fit.
“The student’s work experience becomes part of his or her school profile,” Tierney explained. “They go to school part of the day and work part of the day.”
That scheduling flexibility was important to Jenny Leigh, who owns a restaurant in Kingsley. Mountain View High School student Heather Johnson told her about NTIEC’s internship program after she had worked there for two years. When Johnson was able to start work at 1 pm instead of 4, Leigh no longer had to cover the first three hours of that shift. She also took a different approach with Johnson as an employee.
“I made it my mission to teach her things that you might not learn at a regular job,” said Leigh. “I taught her more about customer service and some bookwork.” Johnson excelled at both, Leigh related, and still works for her part time while pursuing nursing at a local college.
NTIEC offers other career preparedness programs, but with COVID-19 restrictions, it has become very challenging to expose students to different experiences. For example, other traditional programs, such as healthcare, dental and veterinary externships, in-house lectures, and career fairs have been temporarily put on hold till January 2021. “We are working very diligently to develop new virtual programs for our students,” Tierney stated.
For further information on how your student can participate in NTIEC’s programs, interested readers can call 570-278-5038 or have the student reach out to their guidance counselor. The NTIEC serves Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.