Think back on your first job. For many of us, it’s easy to remember our adolescent years with a tinge of nostalgia, forgetting all the stress that comes with new responsibilities. For teenagers, entering the workforce can be an intimidating experience full of unknowns. What is a job interview like? How do I manage income and expenses? How do I work toward my professional goals?
This summer, a new program has worked to guide a group of local young people through those very questions. The Junior Staff Career Academy, run by the Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids, has helped ten local teens through their first steps into the professional world.
The program started in June after identifying young people in Wellington Heights and Oakhill Jackson who could use a fresh start. Participants used their interests, hobbies and passions to identify potential career paths. Mentors from Toyota Financial Services and other local businesses served as career coaches, offering insights on how to pursue a chosen path.
Each week, the students met for up to 12 hours to discuss everything from writing a resume to managing a checking account to building a personal brand. In order to gain a wide range of experiences, the group also went on several job shadows. Participants visited the University of Iowa, the VA hospital and other employers.
“The experience was like nothing I’ve ever done,” said Natalie Turner, who is interested in medical professions. “I actually got to learn what it takes to get into that field.” Like Natalie, many of the students realized they didn’t know how to pursue the careers they were interested in, but their mentors offered plenty of insight.
The program also goes beyond teaching and mentoring. Staff connected the youth to local employers so they could experience real interviews and hold real jobs—and earn real paychecks. “This really helps my long-term goal of going to Stanford to major in psychology,” said Lydia Cassell, who dreams of having her own psychiatric practice. Lydia now works for Pathways Behavioral Services, a substance abuse and mental health treatment center, where she is learning techniques, challenges and rewards of counseling.
“The youth had the opportunity to learn about speaking, resume building, job applications and professionalism,” said Lori Ampey, Director of Programming and Outreach at the Boys and Girls Club. “It’s a great head start for our young people, getting them motivated for their future.” Lori looks forward to continuing and expanding the program in the coming months. “It would be great if the program was year-round,” she said. “That would allow us to follow them through high school and send them into their next phase of life with options.”