Think back to the time when you landed your first job and how you felt when you received your first paycheck. I’m sure you must have felt a lot of excitement (understandable), but a first job means so much more than a paycheck. It might mean a connection to a lifelong mentor, envisioning a career path, a boost in self-confidence, an off-ramp from a life on the streets or a belief that you can be something.
Cayuga County’s Employment and Training Department has a youth program that provides local youth with opportunities they can’t find on their own. The program works with kids ages 14-24 who struggle with barriers to employment, such as living in a low-income household, and provides them with a paid entry-level job at local nonprofits in the community. It gives youth in our community the opportunity to experience working with a mentor, exploring career paths and boosting self-confidence. Over the past couple of years, East Hill has had the opportunity to bring real-world, workforce-ready skills to a handful of youth in this program.
In fact, East Hill found the program to be so successful that we recently hired one of the program participants (we’ll call him Anthony) as a full-time employee, and boy was he excited. His first real, full-time job. He’s been here for about five months now and exceeds our expectations every day. It has been an enlightening journey to follow and see firsthand the influence that work has had on him, as it’s a necessary skill for life. Here are a few things that Anthony has learned so far, and will follow him wherever he goes:
1. Jobs teach responsibility. When you take that very first job of yours, your No. 1 priority is to not get fired. You want to prove you have what it takes to show up on time, put the work in, get praise from your boss and master the skill that you have been tasked with. “I come in every day and do my best because I see how happy it makes my boss and the other people that work in the offices," Anthony said. This is the kind of responsibility that a teenager doesn’t always get anywhere else in their lives. After his first job, even after making a mistake or two (because we all do), Anthony has a rule book on how to succeed and will be able to take this with him wherever he goes. At the young age of 18, he will be able to take this with him to any other future job he might hold.
2. It’s a wise way for kids to spend their time. Having the structure of a job helps kids spend their free time more wisely. Instead of sleeping in until noon every day, Anthony has to make each hour of the day count. He gets up every day at 7 a.m., walks to work, works an eight hour day, walks home, helps his mom out around the house and spends some free time doing things he enjoys before he heads to bed and is back at it the next day. Although it is a lot for an 18-year-old to do in one day, it makes him focus more on the things he has to get done knowing that he doesn’t have all the time in the world to do them.
3. They get to work with different types of people. One of the greatest ways to get exposed to interacting with different types of people and handling them in different situations is by taking on a job at an early age. When we are younger, we are used to being around people our age. But when kids work a job, whether it be at a health care facility, movie theater or restaurant, they will interact with several people and learn customer service skills and general people skills along the way. “One of my favorite parts about my job is working with so many nice people. But I have learned that everyone is really different. For example, there are some people that I know really enjoy talking to me, so I’ll tell them about my weekend and others who just prefer a smile and wave hi,” Anthony said.
4. They learn the value of a dollar. Unfortunately, many youth are not schooled in financial literacy. So they may not be ready to make sound financial choices. Working a job at a young age teaches kids how to handle money and the importance of using their money wisely. Now that he’s working, one of the first things Anthony does it give is mom $200 dollars from every paycheck to help with rent and buy groceries. Doing this helps him recognize what he has left to spend on fun things for himself.
It’s easy to see how much Anthony’s first job truly means to him. While learning all these life lessons, it really is the simple things that mean the most to him. Like learning how to snake a toilet and helping the little old lady off the elevator. Anthony’s success, and the success of the other youth in the program, is critical for our community. “We are fortunate to be able to provide invaluable professional experience to local youth that they might not ever have the benefit of having,” said Keith Cuttler, president and CEO of East Hill Family Medical. “I think our community as a whole needs to continue to mentor youth, open our doors to first jobs and help young people join the workforce."
For more information on the Cayuga County’s Employment and Training youth program, contact Jim Alberici at (315) 253-1535.