The training students receive has enabled them to find jobs they might not otherwise get

by: KEVIN SPERL - Andrew Lindberg works in the deli at Wagner's Market.

Tate Blasius, plant manager at Ochoco Manufacturing Company, wasn’t convinced that the Youth Transition Program, offered by the Crook County School District, would work for his company. But, taking on a student on his shop floor has turned him into a believer.

A service of Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, YTP partners with the Oregon Department of Education and the University of Oregon to assist youths with disabilities, helping them gain access to employment and career related post-secondary education or training.

“If our student (whose name is confidential) had walked in the door on his own asking for a job, I would not have given him one,” said Blasius, addressing the school board at its last meeting. “I would have turned him down then and I would have turned him down every week after that.”

Now that student is a valued part-time worker, advancing from three hours a week sweeping floors to 10 hours of welding work.

“The program is available to all students that have some kind of barrier that might influence their ability to get a job,” explained Ramona McCallister, youth transition specialist for the district’s YTP chapter, “And, those barriers could be emotional, physical or any other issue preventing students from getting work.”

According to OVRS counselor Steve Banhouten, YTP is about “teaching kids how to get a job, keep a job and change jobs.”

McAllister agrees that the primary goal of YTP is employment, but she feels it is so much more than that.

“Partnerships are what this program is all about,” she said, “Our network of support includes the community, the schools, the district and all of the other agencies we work with. Without them we could not do what we do to help students build job experience and work skills.”

Initially developed in 1990 serving seven high schools, YTP now has programs operating in 120 high schools throughout the state.

McAllister has relied on the experience of those very schools, getting her start as part of the Jefferson County YTP grant proposal.

“My counterpart at Madras High School, Dianna Barrett, has been a patient and valuable mentor to me,” she said, crediting Barrett’s program for her early successes.

In just a few short months, McCallister has placed five students in paid positions, two into internships, four in training programs, and two as volunteers.

“We currently work with 16 students and our program has a capacity to place 30 students in its first two years,” she explained.

For the student currently working at OMCO, his temporary placement just might become permanent.

“He will work for us this summer,” said Blasius, “and we may offer him a job when he graduates.”

These are the kind of results that YTP, and McCallister, hopes for.

“I’m inspired when I see kids making strides in their journey into the working world,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to know that I am a part of that.”

Other successes include a student that is part of a Heart of Oregon AmeriCorps crew, working in Prineville on a public land project. Another student is gaining construction experience as part of Youth Build, helping to create low-income housing in Redmond.

“Both of these students are able to build work skills at the same time that they finish their academic requirements,” said McCallister. “They are staying engaged while in school.”

For senior Andrew Lindberg, connecting with YTP made what was, for him, a difficult job search, much easier.

“I walked around every day in the hot sun last summer, filling out applications,” he said. “YTP gave me a better chance of getting a job.”

The program helped Lindberg put together a resume and improve his interview skills. Training also taught him to look people in the eye and have confidence about himself and his abilities.

Lindberg now works at Wagner’s Market in the deli, cleaning equipment and preparing food items, all while providing “service with a smile.”

McAllister noted that another student had worked at the store in the fall and had given owner Deb Harper confidence that the program worked.

“That student laid the foundation to make her willing to give another student a chance,” she said. “We appreciate them working with us.”

For Harper, it’s been a good experience as well.

“As an employer, when you are working with kids in their first job, it’s nice to have a teacher for them to go to for support,” she said.

Harper also feels that, as a local business, helping schools train students coming into the workforce benefits the student, the business and the community.

“I feel that YTP helps produce a higher percentage of graduating seniors who are ready for the work environment,” said Harper, adding that Lindberg is one of them, bringing energy and eagerness to the workplace.

McAllister insists she is merely the conduit between a school system that she feels prepares students for success and a local business environment willing to provide opportunities.

“The hard work is done by the teachers,” she said. “I have the privilege to work with students when they are ready to enter the world of work.”

McAllister invites students and their families, as well as local business owners, to call her to find out more about the YTP program.

“Employers can make a positive impact on students, helping to connect them to the world of work by providing a variety of work experiences,” said McCallister. “By building partnerships like we have, we create opportunities today for our youth that will result in skilled workers tomorrow.”

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