Antigo High School, in conjunction with the Antigo Goodwill store and other local businesses, is working to end roadblocks to employment.
The program, operating rather quietly for the last decade, was in the news this fall when AT&T presented the district and Goodwill with a $10,000 grant focused on improving training and technology opportunities for students in rural communities, including Antigo, White Lake, and Rhinelander. It’s a boost to efforts that are reaping results for students with barriers, according to Michelle Arlen, transitions coordinator at the high school, and Erica Kostichka, Antigo store leader.
“Look at all the jobs we have available here in our community,” Arlen said. “We’re teaching them basic skills such as being dependable and showing up for work. These are the skills that employers need.”
The program is currently maxed out, with nine Antigo students and two from White Lake spending a portion of each day at Goodwill, working with associates on duties such as accepting donations, thanking the donors and writing receipts; sorting and labeling; pulling merchandise as needed when the store does it regular turn-overs, and, in time, working directly with customers.
“We focus on everything that goes into a job, Kostichka said. “Our goal at Goodwill is elevating people by eliminating barriers to employment.”
It’s not a charity outing either, Kostichka stressed. The students are paid minimum wage and earn a weekly paycheck. And they receive the regular array of Goodwill benefits, including a discount card.
“They are treated as a regular team member,” Kostichka said. “When they get that paycheck and that discount card they are absolutely thrilled. It is a moment to celebrate a moment of responsibility.”
The program is extremely structured, with regular classroom lessons along with the on-the-floor experience.
“I spend two days with them going over policies, responsibilities, good customer service and other areas,” Kostichka said. “They have to come in here appropriately dressed and use a name badge to clock in just like everyone else.”
Two days a week are also spent on the floor with Fridays earmarked for job-shadowing and other opportunities.
A few blocks away, Arlen works with her students getting them ready for the opportunities Goodwill – and other local participants – can offer through training and employment, which in some cases can continue after high school.
The focus can be a mix of hard and soft skills, including understanding policies, interviewing, appropriate behavior and dress codes. In other words, Arlen said, all the things you normally do in a job market.
“As with any job, there is always opportunities to grow,” Arlen said. “Our students have goals and we work to make sure they are realistic and they are career ready.”
For example, Arlen may place a student with an interest in baking or cooking, with a local restaurant, learning the needed skills and determining if that is what he or she really wants – or is physically and intellectually able – to pursue.
“At school, there are a lot of ways that we can help these students with barriers move forward,” Arlen said. “My goal is to get these students out there in the workforce.”
Arlen and Kostichka said that partnerships such as the work being done by Goodwill and the high school pay dividends far beyond the individual workers. The entire community benefits by having more trained young people interested in becoming productive members of the community after high school.
Other businesses agree. To date, 10 to 12 businesses are involved in the program that some level, whether through placing students or allowing job shadowing, and others have expressed an interest.
“It gives them a sense of understanding and what it takes to work, have stamina, the ability to listen and follow directions,” Kostichka said. “These are the types of things that are going to be important no matter where they work. It makes an impact.”
Source: Antigo Daily Journal, November 16, 2019 edition