LIMA — Each year, an estimated 300 to 500 high school students in Allen County discover they are unable to attend college during the latter part of their senior year. With graduation approaching, these students often lack a backup plan and are left wondering what to do next.
To help guide these students, officials from Link Lima/Allen County, OhioMeansJobs and area school districts teamed up to create “Home Field Advantage,” an outreach program meant to help graduating seniors find employment in the workforce, military or through an apprenticeship.
“There’s a ton of quality career path opportunities that require you to get organized and use your connections, but there’s kids who have no idea what’s available, how much it pays or what skills they need,” said Doug Arthur, program director for Link Lima/Allen County. “The point is that having a plan changes everything. That’s the underpinning of Home Field Advantage; you’ve got to have a plan.”
Without a plan, Arthur said students often resort to low-paying jobs in food service or lawn care, even though higher-paying jobs in the skilled trades are available. OMJ estimates there are 1,500 jobs available within a 10-mile radius of Lima.
Through Home Field Advantage, workforce development officials and high school guidance counselors identify the students who, in the winter or spring of their senior year, realize that college is no longer an option. Arthur said this happens for a variety of reasons, including finances, grades or problems at home.
Once these students are identified, the team at OMJ gives a presentation at area high schools. The presentation includes a 10-minute video that features local employers talking about their desire to hire local talent. Representatives from OMJ then open up a discussion with the students, in an effort to identify what career paths they’re interested in and what qualifications they have or need to fill these jobs.
“We’re trying to get students to understand that whatever your career path, we have the tools and the staff at OhioMeansJobs to help get you connected to that career,” said Joe Patton, the workforce development administrator in Allen County. “Our staff has one-on-one relationships with these employers, so we know what they’re looking for and how they interview, so we can help customize their job search.”
Arthur said many of these employers pay between $11 and $15 an hour to start out with, a stark contrast from the minimum wage jobs a crop of students take each year because they don’t feel they have other options.
For John Simindinger, guidance counselor at Bath High School, the earlier students learn about non-college career options, the better chance they have of being employed right out of high school.
“By doing it at a younger age, that’s certainly better than being 25 or 35 years old and finally deciding I need to get my act together,” Simindinger said. “If you would have done that when you were 18, you might have moved up on the payscale someplace, and you might be sitting pretty good by the time you want to settle down and start a family.”
Bath is one of three local schools that piloted the Home Field Advantage program, along with Shawnee and Allen East. The program’s coordinators admit they were a little late in implementing Home Field Advantage this school year, but they plan to reach all area high schools starting in late fall/early winter of 2016-17.
Patton said any graduating senior who expresses interest in a certain company or industry will be provided with a job coach, who will help them create a resume, enhance their interview skills and then connect with an employer. He said this not only helps graduating seniors find high-paying jobs, it also helps employers find local talent they claim to desperately need.
According to Arthur, hiring locally is a top priority for the region’s companies.
“What employers will tell you is when they import talent, they often spend two years here or less, and then they’re gone,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is say the biggest thing our local kids have that other kids don’t have is that home field advantage. You’ll get the attention and the mentoring because you are our family, you are Lima/Allen County.
“Local, home-grown talent is the best asset for employers.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima