Alexandria, VA

Despite the odds, Alexandria’s Workforce Development Center’s Youth Employment Services has finished up another year with higher-than-usual participation.

It was a tough summer to run a workforce development program. Alongside the global pandemic, Alexandria faced record-high unemployment and a slow recovery for local businesses. But center Director Daniel Mekibib said the program put together options for in-person employment and virtual participation in job training.

“We’re glad, because many other organizations had to cancel,” Mekibib said.

The Workforce Development Center’s Youth Employment Services is a six-week summer course where participants between 14024 years old are given a summer income, work experience, and workplace skills. The program was shifted this year to a focus on the virtual job training through live webinars, one-on-one coaching and small group meetings. Mekibib said students also created LinkedIn pages and resumes.

The program prioritizes students who receive free and reduced price meals through Alexandria City Public Schools, as well as individuals with disabilities, Mekibib said. The feedback this year largely centered around parents and participants hoping to extend the program beyond just the summer and expanding the scope.

“We had about 27 youths participating in physical work experience, like going to non-profits in the city,” Mekibib said. “The type of work ranged from office assistance to working in day care centers.”

The majority of the program’s 201 participants did workplace learning and skills training in virtual programs from home. The program also saw more participation this year, usually capped at 170 participants, after Mekibib said they decided to reduce the number of weekly hours per student from 30 hours to 20 hours.

“It didn’t sound right to put [participants] at 30 hours on a screen,” Mekibib said. “Even before the pandemic, people were more interested, but could only accept that many. But now, with reduced hours from 30 hours to 20, that allowed us to take more kids.”

With the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests, including in Alexandria, Mekibib said the topic of racial equity in the workplace also became a part of the discussion this summer.

“The city has been proactive, even earlier this year hiring the racial equity officer, we were fortunate to have her come and speak to the youth,” Mekibib said. “We were more proactive, but I think the changing environment gave the students a context [for that discussion].”

With the program finished for this year, Mekibib said he hopes participants walk away with a better understanding of the workplace and how to find the right jobs.

“I think they appreciated work and how much preparation will pay off, and also how to identify their interest and how to find something that’s compatible with their talents,” Mekibib said. “It’s a discovery thing; seeing themselves as a productive member of society. In addition to the directory of work skill focuses, we wanted to make sure they understood their environment and talked about racial equity, about how to perform as a digital citizen. It’s a fast-growing digital space, [so we talked about] how to be aware and how to be careful; how to take advantage and how not to be taken advantage of.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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