Schools play larger role in teen employment

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By Kacie Goode

Summer employment among teens has changed a lot in the last decade, from the effects of recession to trends in the type of work; but 2019 is seeing a different shift locally. School districts are becoming more involved in the work opportunities of their students, and summer jobs are becoming more about post-grad preparation and hands-on experience than just earning cash.


Jackson Plum, an incoming Bardstown senior, has been working the last few weeks as a marketing assistant for Town & Country Bank. Some days his work consists of updating headshots for bank employees, and other days he is dabbling in graphic design for the website. The summer job provides him with experience for a career field in which he is interested, and it’s an opportunity he connected with during a school function.

In May, Plum attended the Community Connect, a reverse job fair held at the Nelson County Area Technology Center. The event, a partnership of local school districts and the Bardstown-Nelson County Chamber of Commerce aimed to expose local students to local employers. It was at Connect Plum caught the attention of Town & Country Bank, which was looking to fill the assistant position.

“Jackson has a strong background in graphic design and photography that he brings, along with an upbeat and positive attitude,” said Elizabeth Wimpsett, the bank’s product marketing manager, who met with Plum at the event.

The teen will work in the position throughout the summer, but he will also co-op at the business his senior year, spending a few hours there during the school day. The opportunity provides mutual benefit.

“What I hope to get out of it? Experience,” Plum said, matter-of-factly. “I hope to get the marketing experience and get my first step in; see how big companies do it.”

Lance Blanford, the new workforce development coordinator for Bardstown City Schools, said there are dozens of students in the district experiencing similar employment situations to Plum’s.

“We’ve got kids working with Hardin Memorial Hospital, for UPS, in insurance and manufacturing,” Blanford said, naming a few fields in which students are placed.

Many are working in jobs this summer that align with their academic pursuits or career aspirations.

Incoming senior NaQuan Wright is working this summer at Armag Corporation, a company that manufactures modular buildings and portable storage. He wants to make a career out of welding, and the summer job is an amazing opportunity.

Another student was hired on this summer by Hadley Energy Solutions to assist in an energy upgrade to Bardstown City Schools campus.

As workforce development coordinator, Blanford said it is his job to connect students with work-based learning opportunities and employers to “get them in the door and apply what they are learning in the classroom.”

He’s only in his second month with the position, but during the coming school year, he plans to work closely with kids to develop their individual goals.

“If a student’s path is leading them to college, then we may focus more on academic offerings such as advanced placement and dual credit courses” while making sure they understand the work landscape, he said. “If their path is leading them more directly into the workforce, then most definitely we are going to be providing them opportunities tied to their specific skill sets and interests. We are going to get them in the community and engaging with employers.”

That intensified focus on providing students with real work experience — both in the summer and while school is in session — isn’t unique to the city district.

By the fall of 2020, Nelson County Schools district looks for each of its seniors to be involved in some sort of work-based experience, whether it’s an internship, apprenticeship, clinical hours, co-op or even in-school business opportunities.

Summer break sees the process already beginning for some, such as Thomas Nelson High School student Trevor Tatum, who is spending his summer with Jim Hagan’s State Farm office.

“I am mainly helping on the technology side, trying to make customer service a lot easier and trying to help them have easy access to contact us and make payments,” Tatum said of the position, which he started this month. Like Plum, his work will extend into the school year as a co-op.

“I’ve always found marketing pretty exciting and intriguing, so I figured this would be a good way to see what it’s like and get my feet wet,” he said. “I think it will give me a lot of communication skills, technology skills and people skills” he will need later on in his career exploration.

While Tatum works on his office skills, fellow Thomas Nelson student Jacob Head is spending his summer at Joe Hill’s equipment center, working in the shop and on engines, something he enjoys. He, too, will continue working with the business his senior year.

Outside of helping incoming seniors build their resumes, the district also looks to assist recent graduates and has partnered with the Lincoln Trail Workforce Board and the Lake Cumberland Area Development District for a summer work program. The program targets recent graduates who have not yet secured employment or started post-secondary education. The district is actively working on placements for that program, which runs through the end of August.

Employers interested in assisting districts with work-based learning opportunities for students can find a school contact list at ltcareer.wpengine.com/WBLO.  

Employers, educators teaming up on workforce development


The summer experiences of local teens are just part of the bigger picture when it comes to the evolution of workforce development and education in Nelson County. In addition to helping students find jobs and other work-based learning opportunities, districts are also expanding their presence in the community and connecting with employers in the process. 

This month, Nelson County Schools continued its NPossible Teacher Externship, which involved teachers spending two or three days with employers for a behind-the-scenes look at the work they do. The goal is for the teachers to take what they learned from their experiences and use that information to develop lesson plans and other opportunities and activities to improve how they prepare students for careers. 

“In my mind, it’s about the most important thing you can do for a teacher, to provide the opportunity to go out in the community and be part of a business that supports us as a community partner or as an employer of our students,” said John Hammond, a teacher at Thomas Nelson High School. He participated in an externship with RAME Contracting the week of June 5. 

“I am going to come back with a greater sense of appreciation for what students are going out to do,” he said. 

Among the externships held this month were visits to RAME, NPR of America, Heaven Hill, Orbis, Beam Suntory, Buzick, Flaget Hospital, Town & Country Bank, and UPS World Hub. 

Mago Construction hosted a group of 30 teachers in March as part of an early externship introduction. In July, the company has plans to host two teachers for a more one-on-one experience.

Nika Mathis, Mago’s vice president, called the externships a “creative, fresh and unique” opportunity for the community, for schools, for the company and for workforce in general. 

“Many of us who have chosen a career path in the construction industry did not have positive experiences in school or relationships with our teachers,” Mathis said, adding that some in the industry feel like the career choice was not encouraged or supported because of the push for higher education. 

But the stigma is changing, she said. 

“For me, a bigger picture takeaway and goal of our externship is to work towards mending those relationships and defying those stigmas,” Mathis said. “These teachers want to see what we do and how we do it, and explore the numerous career opportunities offered in construction and the trades, and it is so encouraging. They want to meet our people, ask questions, and, all the while, switch roles from being teachers to being students, and learning. 

“We are so proud and excited to be able to open our doors and share what we do with these teachers, students, and this community, where many of us work and call home. The construction industry offers such a variety of respectable, well-paying career opportunities.” 

While the externships allow companies to learn more about educators — and vice versa — for many, the experiences are not the first connections the employers have made with schools. Some already offer internships and job shadows for teens, participate in career days and mock job fairs, or take part in other career and education events. 

“(Mago is) currently exploring an accredited apprenticeship program for students,” Mathis said. “We welcome new graduates — high school or college — to reach out to us to discuss career opportunities.”

For companies that do not have as much experience with employing teens, such as Beam Suntory and others in the bourbon industry, the externships enhance connections in a different way. 

Kevin Smith, vice president of Kentucky Beam bourbon affairs, said the externships provide an opportunity for employers and educators to better understand the needs of businesses. Beam Suntory hosted four teachers this month.

“This is really good for the community, especially in solving workforce issues,” Smith said. “Teachers spend a lot of time becoming really good at educating, but they often haven’t spent a lot of time in the workforce and see how things change. This is a great opportunity for teachers to get exposure and, in turn, they can build better lesson plans to help kids learn the skills they need.” 

Smith said he would like to see the externship opportunities expand to other districts and even colleges. 

While the June externships are over, Laura Arnold, director of workforce development for Nelson County Schools, said teachers, employers and students will continue to develop workforce-related opportunities going into the new school year. 

“Over the past year, Nelson County Schools have asked community members to explore the purpose of school,” she said. “As we reimagine school and focus on the gifts of our students it is critical to bring community partners to our table. The NPossible Externship has allowed our teachers to better connect with the employer partners to create real world experiences for our students.”