GETTING A FOOT IN THE DOOR
By MARA KNAUB SUN STAFF WRITER
Internships, on-the-job training lead to work opportunities YOUNG PEOPLE ENTERING the workforce often face a hurdle: lack of experience. Many employers looking to hire workers usually require some experience, which puts young people at a disadvantage. This is when Arizona@Work comes in. The workforce development agency offers paid internships and on-thejob training to help young people gain experience for their resumes. It helps them get a foot in the door, and some of them even get a long-term job out of the experience. But it’s not just job seekers who get something out of the programs; employers benefit as well. Arizona@Work will pay 100% of the intern’s salary and up to 75% of the salary of an employee enrolled in the on-the-job training program. Former intern Amanda Gonzalez, 24, got her foot in the door after going to the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Career Center, 300 S. 13th Ave., which is geared toward helping youth between the ages of 16-24 find jobs and/or educational training services. Arizona@Work matched Gonzalez with a paid internship at Adult Literacy Plus, her first job, after enrolling in the program. “I came into the youth center so that I could get experience, and it’s really been a ride,” Gonzalez said. “It really has helped me. The internship I got really gave me perspective of how work is supposed to go and what to do from there.” She found out about the program from her sister. “I thought it would be a really good start” to learning job skills through workshops and gaining experience. Gonzalez took financial literacy and Microsoft Office courses, one in person and the other online because of the pandemic. Although she was a little familiar with Microsoft, the class “really opened the door to actually knowing what I’m doing with it.” Gonzalez received her GED after taking math classes at Adult Literacy Plus. She wanted to work there because she understood what the students go through, “how scary it is the first time you enter it.” She also wanted to learn customer service. In particular, she knew she needed help with phone skills. “How to talk on the phone is a skill,” she noted. She’s grateful that her employer and coworkers were patient with her. “The people that I worked with understood that I wasn’t exactly professional on that level yet.” Gonzalez completed her internship in four months and now she’s preparing for college in the fall. She wants to study computer science. “I want to be a computer programmer,” she said. She recommends the program to youth. “We don’t have much of any experience starting out. There’s so many job descriptions that need you to have five years, two years of experience in something. MLK gives you that opportunity. It gives you the chance to learn without that pressure of not knowing how to do it. It gave me that ability to practice, take the time, and amass those skills,” Gonzalez said. What advice would she give other young people? “It’s scary to start, to push yourself out of that comfort zone, but I would say it’s better to start now than later. Just push yourself to do it. You’re going to figure out that it’s not as scary as you thought. Don’t procrastinate. Do it.” The internship program helped Angel Reyes find a career direction. “I was fresh out of high school. I didn’t know what to do,” he said. He found out about the MLK Youth Career Center from his mother. “I was like any other high school graduate that didn’t know what to do. After I graduated from high school two years ago, I was lost and didn’t know what to do. I needed that extra helping hand. I needed to get my foot in the door. It was free, and there are a lot of certifications you can take,” he said. Reyes took a Microsoft class and then courses in office management and office etiquette. He used those skills in his internship. “I learned a lot, and I’m still learning,” he said. Once at the MLK center, he learned about the internship program. “It was a scary decision, but one of the best decisions I ever made,” Reyes said. To enter the program, he went to orientation, took a test, met an eligibility specialist and then got a case manager. He too was familiar with his internship match: Arizona@Work. He enjoyed the experience, his coworkers and the participants. His favorite part was “seeing them leave with a smile on their faces, because I could see myself in them.” But his internship was cut short. The work experience was supposed to be four months, and after a month, he learned that the agency had an opening. He applied, got interviewed and was hired permanently. Reyes said he loves working for the agency and helping participants, knowing he could help change their lives. Which is the same reason Oscar Chavez does what he does. He has been the Arizona@Work business outreach coordinator for about six months. The longtime Yuman thought the position would be a good fit. He attended Yuma High School and Arizona Western College and knows his community well. “Yuma is my town,” he noted. Chavez entered the workforce early and worked all kinds of jobs, “I don’t think there was a job that I did not do,” he quipped. He has done yard work, worked in agriculture. He worked for the Yuma Parks and Recreation Department for many years and in many capacities. He worked for the Yuma County Juvenile Justice Center. Chavez continued to work with the city recreation department, running basketball leagues and summer programming, as well as coaching high school football, basketball and volleyball. He was “working with people and families, doing some positive things, and always trying to be a good positive influence in the community I was living in because I do love Yuma so much.” When he heard about the Arizona@Work opportunity to work with youth ages 16 to 24, he thought: “That sounds like something I would like to do.” He wasn’t wrong. “Love it every day. I get to meet so many new people.” Chavez works with young people in the internship program, pairing them with employers. “Arizona@Work, we’re the pros out here when it comes to matching employers up and matching participants. We have so many contacts out there to reach out within the community and try to partner up people in a field or area of their interest.” The program is successful because of the collaboration with the “masters in the field” who are willing “to share their knowledge with the young people coming into the workforce and help them develop those skills and master them.” How does an internship benefit a participant? “Anything you do, it’s going to stay with you,” he said. He uses himself as an example, noting that he has had a lot of jobs, and he learned something from every one of them. “All of us have a desire to be a part of something, something greater than ourselves, whether in the medical field, whether in the industrial field, whether in ag, whether it’s in education, whether it’s in manufacturing, because we understand it’s being part of the American dream. Being a productive part of society, having a job, having a career, is part of the dream we all have,” Chavez said. “A dream without a goal is just a dream. Ultimately, if you don’t have goals with that dream, you are going to lead towards disappointment. You have to have goals,” he added. He explained that case managers work hand-in-hand with participants to identify career needs and interests and make sure that their goals lead to that “ultimate dream,” whether it’s being a doctor, radiology technician, sportscaster, nurse, teacher or secretary. Whatever a person’s area of interest, the program has internships available. The opportunities include nursing and medical assistant, office clerical, law enforcement, manufacturing, electrical, construction, etc. “Whatever you can think of, we can do it here,” Chavez said. “If you’re into mechanics, we can get you an internship in mechanics, If you’re into computers, we can get you an information technology internship. If you’re into just regular construction work or plumbing work or electrical work, we have those opportunities as well.” Currently, education and human services are urgently in need of workers. From preschool and primary to secondary school as well as recreation and jobs that require working with other people, this sector is seeking employees. “There’s lots of need in schools and various recreational centers around Yuma that need good, positive people that want to work with other people in developing young people’s minds and young people’s hearts and young people’s attitudes,” Chavez said. Businesses are willing to take on interns when they’re referred to by Arizona@Work. There are nearly 4,000 businesses in Yuma and many of them want to share their expertise through paid internships and on-the-job training. “You’re going to go to work in a professional setting, you’re going to receive expert training from the professionals who are in the field in your workforce development process, and at the same time, you’re going to earn a little bit of money for yourself,” Chavez said. Arizona@Work pays the minimum wage of $12.15 an hour for training and development over a 15-week period. Those companies are also looking for good employees. If interns do well, they will likely want to hire them. Interns can also move into on-the-job training, and Arizona@ Work will reimburse employers up to 75% of the participant’s wage for six months. At the end of the program, the participant remains an employee of the employer. Chavez invites young job seekers and those who don’t know what they want to do to visit the MLK Youth Career Center. “Come on down. You’ve got to put some hustle behind that muscle. You’ve got to have some commitment to yourself, commitment to want to become something better than you currently are and lead yourself to a future. Without commitment you will never, ever start.” While “fear of the unknown” is natural, Chavez notes that there’s no reason to be scared of failure because everyone fails and makes mistakes. What’s important is to get up again and keep going. Once a person applies for the program, eligibility staff will help them every step of the way, he noted. Lack of experience also shouldn’t stop someone. Sometimes it’s better to start with a clean slate. They make great job candidates. “Someone will share with you all the ins and outs and the expertise of that particular field. You’re going to be like a sponge just soaking it in,” Chavez said. “The doors are wide open. We want to help you,” Chavez added. For more information, call 928-783-9347.