‘Take the risk’: Young people in Franklin County speak up about getting first jobs and wanting a chance to work

 

By TOM RELIHAN
Recorder Staff

Thursday, July 23, 2015
(Published in print: Friday, July 24, 2015)

GREENFIELD — When it comes to employment, adults are usually the ones who end up interviewing youngsters about their work experience, aspirations and ethics as they try to land their first job, but the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board’s YouthSpeak event at Greenfield’s John W. Olver Transit Center this week turned that notion on it’s head.

Wednesday’s event, the 12th annual, brought members of the board’s Youth Services Council, Community Action Youth Programs staff and young people who are participating in the Northampton YouthWorks and Community Action’s Workforce Investment Act Youth Employment program together to talk about their work experiences, share career and life advice and discuss the challenges facing today’s future workforce.

The event started with a pizza lunch and interview session that gave the youths a chance to put the adults in the hot seat, including Greenfield Mayor William Martin, Community Action and Dial/Self staff members and representatives from Reps. Paul Mark and Susannah Whipps Lee’s offices, among others.

Sierra Linnell and Brooke Loseman, both of Orange, who have been working as interns at Clearview Compost and Athol Hospital, respectively, took the opportunity to ask Community Action education specialist Allen Fowler and workforce development coordinator Jen Hansen about their first jobs, the things they’ve learned over the course of their careers, and the lessons they’d teach their teenage selves if given the chance.

“Pursue your dreams,” Fowler told the pair, responding to that last question. “Be realistic, but go after it.”

Confidence and competence held equal value for Hansen when she was asked questions about what makes a good boss, and what makes a good employee.

“A good boss is competent in the job they do, accessible when needed, and confident in what they’re doing,” Hansen said. “That makes a wonderful leader.”

Employees, she said, need to have good initiative, communication skills, and need to be dependable.

The second half of the event saw the adults take a back seat to the youths, who gathered at the front of the room for a moderated discussion that focused on the skills they’d gained or what they’d learned about themselves through summer work, what they wished employers understood about them, and their experience growing up in their home towns.

Justin Morrill, who works on the custodial staff at Bernardston Elementary School, said his summer job has made him better at managing his time.

“You’ve really got to pay attention to how much time it takes you to do a task,” he said. “I’m used to having a lot of free time, and there’s not as much at work.”

Morrill said money became less of a motivating factor than carrying out and completing work tasks on the job.

“I find it’s a lot easier if you’re doing it just to do the job,” he said.

Many of the youths said they wish employers would focus less on how much work experience young people already have when hiring them and more on helping the youths obtain the skills to become good employees.

“It’s really hard gaining experience to get your first job,” said Jessica McMenamin of Greenfield. “They expect you to have already learned everything. We’re not born that way, it takes time. If they’d give us the time and patience to let us learn and just do, we’d have a chance to prove ourselves.”

Confidence and competence held equal value for Hansen when she was asked questions about what makes a good boss, and what makes a good employee.

“A good boss is competent in the job they do, accessible when needed, and confident in what they’re doing,” Hansen said. “That makes a wonderful leader.”

Employees, she said, need to have good initiative, communication skills, and need to be dependable.

The second half of the event saw the adults take a back seat to the youths, who gathered at the front of the room for a moderated discussion that focused on the skills they’d gained or what they’d learned about themselves through summer work, what they wished employers understood about them, and their experience growing up in their home towns.

Justin Morrill, who works on the custodial staff at Bernardston Elementary School, said his summer job has made him better at managing his time.

“You’ve really got to pay attention to how much time it takes you to do a task,” he said. “I’m used to having a lot of free time, and there’s not as much at work.”

Morrill said money became less of a motivating factor than carrying out and completing work tasks on the job.

“I find it’s a lot easier if you’re doing it just to do the job,” he said.

Many of the youths said they wish employers would focus less on how much work experience young people already have when hiring them and more on helping the youths obtain the skills to become good employees.

“It’s really hard gaining experience to get your first job,” said Jessica McMenamin of Greenfield. “They expect you to have already learned everything. We’re not born that way, it takes time. If they’d give us the time and patience to let us learn and just do, we’d have a chance to prove ourselves.”