CareerSource Polk, which oversees the state and federal funds dedicated to preparing and upgrading a skilled workforce, is working with young people ages 16 to 24, introducing them to the workplace and preparing them to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Whether they want to earn their GED, start working or nab their first internship, students in the Young Leaders program are getting involved. Equipping participants with resources and an incentive to complete the program, CareerSource Polk is offering a new Microsoft Surface Pro tablet.

We offer a wide range of services to the youth involved in the Young Leaders program, including resume and employment assistance as well as training for credentialing,” said Candace Franklin, the non-profit organization’s community outreach coordinator.

In August, CareerSource Polk offered Microsoft Digital Literacy training and Florida Softskills training.

“The Microsoft Digital Literacy training focuses on digital technology, so not only are you learning the basics of software such as Microsoft Word and Outlook, but there are also modules that focus on subjects like online communication, using peripheral devices and searching the internet.”

The organization teaches soft skills like how to handle interviews, communicate in the office, attire and more.

“Once completed, a youth participant will be more prepared to apply for entry-level positions, such as customer service or a receptionist,” Franklin said.

Because the coronavirus pandemic has prompted some students to take their classes online this year, CareerSource Polk is doing even more than normal to help provide tools for students to be successful, which is why they are supplying the Surface Pro tablets.

“They also received $500 in Publix gift cards to help with food. And lastly, participants could earn up to $1,000 in incentives,” Franklin said. “For our incentives, we have a list of activities and assignments that must be done in addition to their internship that offer a more in-depth look at things like financial literacy, Florida’s Read-To-Work program, positive lifestyle choices, career exploration and more.”

Some participants “come from low-income families, so they use this money for school clothes and other items,” she said.

The First Step

Many go to CareerSource Polk wanting to get their general-equivalency diploma (GED), Franklin said. CareerSource Polk tutors them for about 10 hours a week, then pays for their GED classes and testing. Last year, about 50 percent earned their GED, the year before, 70 percent did.

Internships

Internships are one of the biggest draws, serving about 800 young people per year, which includes 200 out-of-school (not enrolled in public school or college) and 600 in-school, said Young Leaders program manager Eshia Smith.

This year is different because of the pandemic.

“This campaign we are focusing on the out-of-school youth, which I would love to serve between 250 and 300, providing them with the work experience component along with other services to ensure their success,” Smith said. The organization’s year runs from July 1 to June 30, 2021.

The Summer Youth Internship Program (SYIP) is open to in-school and out-of-school youth, Franklin said, while the Youth Internship Program (YIP) is only for out-of-school youth, ages 18-24. Both are 10 weeks long, and CareerSource Polk covers participants’ $13 an hour wage, background checks and drug screens, so there is no cost to employers.

Partners who provide internships include the likes of Habitat for Humanity, Boy and Girls Clubs, clothing stores, the city of Lakeland, auto body and barber shops, karate studios and more.

“They are learning the day-to-day operations of the business. We have a wide range of employers that we partner with and we are so thankful for them,” Franklin said. “The result is one intern may be learning the behind-the-scenes of the insurance business while another is learning about inventory and food preparation while interning at a fast-food business. Each student will have a different experience based on where they have been placed.”

The goal is to help participants find jobs. Even for those who come to us to obtain their GED, the journey doesn’t stop there. We want to keep working with them so that they can gain employment. … The best part of our jobs is when one of our youth comes in and tells us, ‘I got the job!’”

Publix holds onsite workshops to engage those who cannot find employment, she said, sharing information like traits they look for in employees. “We’re open to anything that we can do to better prepare them for when they enter their workforce.”

The Youth Internship Program has started but is still accepting applications. Call 863-508-1100 for more information.

Today’s Challenge

The pandemic has challenged the program. “When it came to the Summer Youth Internship Program, a few businesses had to reduce the number of interns they could bring on. Other businesses had to close for a while,” Franklin said.

Still, the organization moves on. It plans to offer virtual classes in the fall. “The logistics of that are in the works. We do have youth participants who come into the office, but many are back in school. Our primary way of communication right now is phone and email.”

Its goal remains the same — the success of the youth participants. “Whether it’s obtaining their GED or gaining employment. if they are looking for a job, we are eager to help them with their resume and we’ll also conduct mock interviews.”