LIMA — The youth exodus has long plagued Allen County, threatening to destabilize the county’s workforce as the population ages. There’s a new idea to fight this trend — and the perception among youth that they can’t build a career in Allen County.
Ohio Means Jobs-Allen County has been sending job coaches into the county’s high schools with a simple message: Jobs are plentiful here.
“If you want to do what we have in Allen County, then we want you back here,” said Joe Patton, executive director of Ohio Means Jobs-Allen County and Allen County Department of Job and Family Services.
Job coaches hold one-on-one career counseling sessions and demonstrate interview techniques in the classroom, hoping to build a stronger relationship between OMJ and today’s youth before they pursue their careers.
“A lot of those students don’t know what’s available right here in the Allen County region,” said Jessie Doyle, jobs center administrator for OMJ-Allen County.
Guidance counselors for life
Job coaches are expected to maintain contact with students after they leave high school, whether the student attends college, trade school or enters the workforce, ultimately recruiting students for jobs or internships available here.
Patton describes the job coaches as guidance counselors for life, as the coaches are available for advice long after a student graduates from high school.
The initiative started as a pilot during the 2018-19 school year, expanding on a previous effort by OMJ to expose high school seniors to the job center and job coaches through single-day events.
Job coaches are now in 13 Allen County schools, including private schools such as Delphos St. John’s and Lima Central Catholic, working alongside school counselors and teachers to develop career-oriented curriculum.
“The more we talk about careers and what you need to accomplish to get on the right pathway, the sooner that you start the process, the easier it’s going to be for you in the long run,” said Samantha Butterfield, a job coach for Perry and Bath high schools as well as Apollo Career Center. “You’ll find out what works, what doesn’t.”
Butterfield splits her time between the three schools and recruiting workers for the region’s top employers.
The dual role is seen as a win-win for employers and students: Companies have immediate access to rising seniors before they enter the workforce. Students have a connection to those companies through their job coach, who can help tailor resumes and direct job-seekers to the training they need.
“They’ve built a relationship with (the coach) here, so they’re comfortable calling her when things don’t work out,” Patton said.
Emphasis on pathways
Working with job coaches frees up time for Linda Hoersten, a guidance counselor at Perry High School, to make sure her students stay on track for graduation, a task made all the more difficult as Hoersten juggles three different sets of graduation requirements affecting her students.
“Just keeping on top of that is challenging enough, but yet we want them to leave our building ready for adulthood and life after high school,” Hoersten said. “If we could help soften that blow and create a cushion for them, because we all fall at some point and we all have those challenges after high school, then this is a great resource for our students to have.”
The emphasis on career pathways starts early.
Students are encouraged to research careers before starting high school. Once youth are old enough to seek part-time work, Ohio Means Jobs, through a separate but related youth program, steers students toward jobs related to their career pathway.
For aspiring nurses, that may mean working part-time in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Patton said that early exposure helps connect students to mentors and career networks before they leave high school, an opportunity for youth to test future careers before committing to expensive degree programs.
“It’s good they find out now and not two years into a degree pathway,” Patton said.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.