Young people spend their spring break learning employability skills

By Dave Conrad

Craig Stevens of United Technologies Aerospace Systems gives students at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology pointers on how to prepare for a job interview.

"When can you start? Those are words every job seeker longs to hear, but words too rarely spoken to young people.

Connecticut is still feeling the impact of the Great Recession. We still have high unemployment, and many job-seekers are abandoning their searches.

For young people, it's much worse: bigger unemployment numbers and greater despair.

What's keeping employers from taking on a new generation of workers? Is it the state's economy, or skills gap, or something very basic, like a candidate knowing how to tie a tie properly or look an interviewer in the eye?

Actually, it's all three, but the last category, professional skills, is what most often trips up young job-seekers.

"They don't understand what potential employers expect of them, or how to sell themselves positively in a way that reassures employers," says Judy Resnick, executive director of CBIA's Education Foundation.

As a result, businesses usually hesitate to take on what appears to be a big risk.

Spring Ahead

That's why a special academy this spring in Hartford led by the Education Foundation was so vital to more than 30 inner-city high school students from the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AoEGT).

While most kids were chilling during spring break, these students went back to school to learn the intangibles necessary to win and keep good jobs.

At the YES (Youth Employability Skills) Academy, students learned teamwork and decision-making skills and how to take initiative, interview well, write winning resumes, and yes, even dress for success.

You might think those are run-of-the-mill skills, but for the AoEGT students, they're pure gold.

Employers see many young people from high school and college who lack the professional skills to make it into, and then stay in, the workplace. While they may be talented, they often don't know how to dress, talk, and act like ideal job candidates or prospective employees.

YES instructors included more than 30 volunteers from organizations such as Bank of America; Benefactory; Berman, Bourns, Aaron & Dembo; CBIA; Cigna; the Mandell Jewish Community Center; Kelly Engineering Resources; LiveKind; Milone & MacBroom; Northeast Utilities; Travelers; and UTC Aerospace Systems. Funding for the project was provided by United Technologies Corp.

Their efforts paid off, and just in time. All of the participating AoEGT students are aiming to fill paid summer internships this year with companies in the Hartford area.

"I learned so much in four days that I would never have learned in years," wrote Bishnu Mishra, an AoEGT student in a post-academy thank-you note.

Probably the most important lesson the students learned was about how to turn despair into hope."It doesn't matter where or how you grow up," said Sita Nyame, "but what actions you take to decide your future."

With new skills and new resolve, the AoEGT kids are likely to be some very impressive workers.

The Academy of Engineering and Green Technology is a member of the National Academy Foundation, a national organization of more than 500 career-themed academies.

If you would like to meet or possibly hire an AoEGT student, contact CBIA's Dayl Walker at 860.244.1935.

Dave Conrad is a senior writer at CBIA. Contact him at dave.conrad@cbia.com.