As summer goes into full swing, employment opportunities for youth and young adults are a pressing issue. While access to well-paying jobs may seem like a long journey for many young people coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) | BIG STEP offered solutions at their Summer Youth Construction Career Fair on Tuesday at the Madison Labor Temple.
“We are definitely targeting young people, just to get them started earlier,” said Toni White, chief operating officer (COO) at WRTP. “And I would say what we call the emerging adults, 18 to 24. I still might be living with my parents, but I’m not quite sure where my career pathway is going to be.”
White worked with Stephanie Moreno, lead program coordinator and lead organizer of the event, to provide insight and motivation for young people to come out and explore career options. Moreno and White were especially focused on opening the idea of trade professions up to people who may be underrepresented in the field or who may just not see themselves fitting the stereotypical image of a trade laborer.
“I think, other than that, it’s just anyone who’s interested,” said White. “A lot of females think that it’s physically taxing work, but there are certain trades that are not as taxing as some people believe. But it’s also the wages that you make in the timeframe. So I think that that’s what makes it very important that people have family-sustaining wages able to provide for their families”
The focus on providing the youth of Madison with opportunity and perspective comes appropriately at the time of year when graduating high schoolers are developing their future career and life goals. However, White also expressed how an even earlier introduction to the opportunities in trade professions may help with future decisions.
“The trades are trying to catch them early for career awareness. And so that when they get to 12th grade, they have options,” she said. “Your traditional college route might be the route, community college might be the route, you know, everybody’s situation is different. We are also starting to reach out to individuals serving young women as well. So we built a partnership with Operation Freshstart, and we built the partnership with the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center with the Boys and Girls Club so that we can do more at a younger age to get that hands-on experience that a lot of our inner-city kids may not receive, or kids in general, just because they don’t have tradespeople in their families.”
The Summer Youth Construction Career Fair provided young people with a better picture of how careers can be built outside of the more discussed post-high school plans. With more exposure to valuable career opportunities that allow young people to earn, learn, and advance in their field, White made the potential of getting into the trades early clear.
“Just in general, I think that parents need to start talking to their kids earlier about what their plans are as far as careers, maybe ninth grade. A lot of parents wait until their junior year when they start taking the SATs or ACTs because they’re always thinking about that traditional model of going to the four-year university, which is very expensive. This is an opportunity where young people get to earn while they’re learning the trades.”
The importance of introducing young people earlier to diverse career options and ways to develop their interests is only possible through inclusivity and outreach.
“I think that people have to do more to partner together. I think that we have to understand there’s youth in the rural areas, there’s youth in the inner cities, and I think that we have to really look at how we engage young people. It’s not the same anymore.”, White said. “Utilizing the social media platforms, because that’s what they like. And a lot of us older individuals aren’t necessarily comfortable with a lot of those platforms. But you have to move outside your comfort zone in order to feel that the youth can move outside of their comfort zone to come into our space. So you have to be respectful of the ways in which young people engage with one another.”
While the importance of providing opportunities for gainful employment and dedicated training and assistance for developing trade professionals was the focus of the day, White also made it clear that taking those first steps into a trade profession can simply be part of an even bigger plan.
“I think sometimes we have to look at how we can do things differently to help the young people so that they don’t end up in other spaces at later times in their lives. So the quicker you engage them in something that they’re interested in, and it’s not eliminating their dreams. Because a lot of our young people have dreams, they have their own thoughts and beliefs about what they want to be and how they want to do it. I think for us, it’s about respecting that. And also understanding and exploring for the expansion of their minds, to understand that you can get your dream, but this might help you get to your dream faster.”
Check out the work of WRTP | BIG STEP and see their upcoming events on their website.