Sharon Baudelaire knows what it feels like to be isolated and immobilized with fear and uncertainty about the future. Her world began to unravel when she was 10. Her father died, her mother was deported to Mexico, and she began a life in and out of foster care.
Today, Baudelaire is 25. She is working toward a master’s degree in history and counsels troubled young people at the Family Northland Help Center. But her success is not the typical story for those who have experienced such sadness and upheaval at an early age, and she knows it. Baudelaire is well aware that others with similar backgrounds are likely to be vulnerable, depressed, isolated, homeless and lost.
That is why she is helping the Coconino Career Center connect young people to a new program called
StartHere.Jobs. Launching this month, StartHere offers training, resources, mentors, internships, jobs and perhaps the first chance for many to be in charge of a life filled with dreams, aspirations and value for themselves, local businesses and the community.
“We have been working with such youth for quite some time,” said Career Center Director Carol Curtis. “The focus used to be on keeping young people in school. Now, our aim is reaching individuals ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working, providing a supportive environment for them, unraveling who they are and what they dream about for their future, facilitating a training program and connecting them with jobs, people and businesses where they can grow.”
Coconino County Workforce Development Specialist Julia Gilmore says six career pathways in growing fields have been identified for StartHere: manufacturing, property maintenance, health care, commercial driving, computer information technology and an exploratory option for those who do not yet know which direction they want to take.
“Health care is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Workers in this field are in high demand and it is expected that this field will only continue to grow,” she said. “The jobs in the StartHere Program offer a great opportunity to be part of something important. You can start getting experience right away as a caregiver or medical assistant. Industry training for job-specific skills are available through a variety of community partners who work with StartHere.”
Career Center officials point to projected workforce shortages in these areas:
- The National Manufacturing Institute notes that 67 percent of employers report a moderate to severe shortage of available qualified workers, and 56 percent expect this shortage to become more severe.
- According to Realtor.com, Phoenix is expected to be the top housing market in the U.S. this year and the demand for property managers and real-estate experts will rise to meet that demand.
- Nearly 13 million new health care workers will be needed worldwide by 2035. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million vacancies will emerge for registered nurses between now and 2022, with states like Arizona and Florida experiencing the most impact.
- In the U.S., the shortfall of truck drivers currently is estimated at around 50,000 and with the average age of drivers at 49, many soon will be retiring.
“Nationwide, one in seven kids will be out of school and will not be working or returning to education. And there are many employers who really need them,” said Gilmore. “It’s incredibly difficult to find and engage these young people who have not identified their next step. But, in every study we’ve seen, it only takes one positive adult to change the momentum in someone’s life. Our StartHere team will connect that out-of-school youth with that one positive person.”
Curtis says the demographic the program is targeting is transient in nature. Individuals may be moving from city to city as family members find work; many are living on the couches of friends or worse. The StartHere program gives these individuals a reason to stay and the support they need to put down permanent roots.
“Most of them are temporarily homeless,” she said. “They might be sleeping under the underpass and on a trajectory for a life of crime, suicide or a pregnancy that they can’t care for. It’s a life without much positivity in it. How do you fill out a job application or walk into a job interview if you don’t have a phone and can’t put down a Social Security Number?”
Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans has been a champion for disconnected youth through her work with the county in the past and is a strong advocate for the new initiative.
“I’m really excited about it, it’s long overdue,” she said. “We live in a world where we expect everyone to graduate from high school and go to college. A lot of us don’t take that direct route. I didn’t. StartHere
allows those individuals who don’t fit into a neat box of expectations to grow and take a direct hand in who they are going to be.”
Reaching those individuals has proven challenging. Coconino County has been awarded government funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) established by the federal government in 2014 to serve disconnected youth who are 16 to 24 years old, are not in school and not working. However, Gilmore says many areas across the nation have struggled to attract and retain participants in their programs. As a result, Coconino County procured additional funding from other areas that were unable to spend the funds before they expired.
“We are launching an innovative awareness campaign to reach these young people where they are,” said Curtis.
Creative marketing efforts include giving basketballs away at the Hal Jensen Recreation Center imprinted with the StartHere.Jobs message. A three-dimensional urban art installation featuring a eight-foot-by-four-foot StartHere.Jobs logo will be on public display where individuals are encouraged to adorn it with non-toxic, water soluble spray chalk. Removable decals with information about the program will be attached to signs at locations like the Flagstaff Urban Trails System.
In the meantime, the county is building a network of support for the program. John Taylor of Terra BIRDS currently works to provide young people with employment opportunities. “Through this experience, I do believe that larger-scale progress can be made through multiple such partnerships and personal mentoring approaches via collaboration between the Coconino Career Center and school counselors and other organizations who are already actively working with this population.”
Gilmore stresses the importance of support from other community organizations and local businesses to help individuals gain work experience and exposure to career paths.
“There is a shortage in skilled labor across the U.S., and Flagstaff is no different,” said Nestlé Purina Human Resources Manager Jeff Springborn. “As our long-time employees begin to retire, there is a high demand for new skilled workers in manufacturing. Because of this, we recognize that promoting and providing opportunities for training and career development is vital for the sustainable growth of our business and the manufacturing industry.”
Senestech CEO Dr. Loretta Mayer stresses the importance of retaining a youthful talent pool. “If you are a business similar to ours, you need the entire spectrum of skills to be sustainable and vibrant. You need folks willing to learn at entry levels, scientific skills, quality control assurance where protocols can be taught, shipping, manufacturing, mid-level managers and people with MBAs and Ph.D.s. One of the most important things for a company is diversity. Not everyone thinks about age diversity as a plus, but it is. Mature folks pass on their experience and work ethic and young people have energy, the ability to learn and the need to participate in service to give back to their communities.”
Mayor Evans calls the lack of involvement by any sizeable group of young people who are not engaged with the rest of society a tremendous loss of social and economic capital. “Anything we can do to engage our youth in a meaningful way is critically important for the life of a community.”
Baudelaire describes the experience of growing up with other families and group homes as stifling. “I wasn’t allowed to have a cell phone, I couldn’t hang out with friends, I couldn’t have social media, I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t listen to music. It very much isolated me from the outside world, which is why StartHere is going to be a bridge from the foster care community to the real world. We need this service to become leaders in the community rather than remaining a silenced group of people.”
The StartHere program is officially kicking off at 2 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Bushmaster Park. For more information, call 928-525-4642 or visit StartHere.Jobs. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN