Chester County, PA Spotlight: Career Corps Helps Youth Prepare for Life After High School

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

Graduating high school is a momentous occasion often marked by plans for college, but that isn’t the case for all students. Studies are showing young adults no longer have a clear or straightforward post-educational or career path as previous generations did. Compared with last fall, undergraduate postsecondary enrollment is down 4% in 2021, according to figures from the National Student Clearinghouse. That decline is greatest for first-time students, slipping by 16.1% nationwide.

What can be done to better support and guide students as they approach graduation and beyond? In this blog, you will learn about a workforce development program in Chester County, PA that is helping students transition through the appropriate educational pathway and then into the workforce.

How many stories have you heard about youth feeling lost after graduation or deciding to take a year off to “figure things out?” With a stronger academic advising/career counseling support system, more students avoid feeling lost or uncertain. A great example of this type of support model is the Career Corps of Chester County, PA, which is making a positive difference in the lives of youth as they explore life after high school.

In the Q&A interview below, I talked with Janet Spaulding, Community Outreach Coordinator from the PA CareerLink of Chester County about how the Career Corps program is giving students opportunities to get into the community and workforce to practice their skills, whether that’s through job shadowing, internships, on-the-job training or volunteer work.

Janet Spaulding headshot
Janet Spaulding, Community Outreach Coordinator

So, tell me what Career Corps is all about.

Career Corps is Chester County’s youth employment program. This program caters to youth ages 16-24 who have barriers to employment, such as having an IEP, being low-income, criminal justice-involved, or a teen parent. These youth may not have a strong family unit or a role model in their life that shows them what their options are after high school, and high school staff may not be as versed in connecting them with alternative educational, training or employment opportunities.

Where and how do youth receive Career Corps employment services?

The Chester County Career Link in Exton, PA is a full-service job center, with funding for the Career Corps program provided by WIOA through the Workforce Development Board for Chester County, PA. We have many services the youth are eligible for that are funded under the WIOA umbrella, which means there is no cost to the participant.

Many CareerLink participants are adults. What services do you offer youth and how are they recruited?

Our youth participants are recruited through local high schools, including Chester County Intermediate Unit. There is a technical college/high school attached to it. We also promote our program through social media campaigns, word of mouth, community partners, etc. Any services the CareerLink offers adults, we also offer to youth participants, but with a more robust support system. Career Corps is there to provide more than just employment support – it helps youth navigate their educational plans or gain employment, and teaches them important life skills, including how to increase their employability and improve their soft skills.

JJ and interns Career Corps 2
Youth Career Specialist, JJ Rapcyznski

Some of the services offered are listed in the graphic below and include career planning assistance, paid internships, on-the-job training, soft skills building, workplace etiquette, professional dress, attitude, resume workshops, etc.

Why is Career Corps especially important for those not taking the straight-to-college-after-high-school route?

When you’re in high school, there is a guidance counselor helping you figure out what’s next, and what steps to take. Many students choose the clearly paved 4-year college route, but for others, the path isn’t as clear. Some youth are unsure of what they want to do and there isn’t a strong support system for them. Others who choose to pursue the trades take a fast-track training program or enter the workforce. We’re here to fill that need and support these youth in their chosen path.

You mentioned internships earlier. How do you help youth secure an internship?

The CareerLink received a State and Local Internship Program (SLIP) grant funded through WIOA earlier this year to help fund internships. This gives employers who don’t have the budget to pay for an intern, the opportunity to hire help that otherwise was unaffordable. Having a paid internship is a benefit for the youth as well, giving them a chance to earn money while gaining relevant industry experience.

Internships are an important step in helping youth prepare for careers; it’s an opportunity for them to test out what it’s like to be in a workplace among professionals doing real work. The hope is that they are impressive enough to their internship provider (employer) that they get a job offer out of it. One our SLIP grant interns, Marc Capozzoli (pictured below) has been offered a full-time job by his internship provider upon graduating or earning his GED.

Mark Career Corps Intern
Marc Capozzoli, Career Corps program participant

Here's what Marc had to say about the program:

"Career Corps was a great experience because it allowed me to get my feet wet in an office environment and a field that I want to be in. I was able to make some money while also putting to use skills that I have been learning in school and through Career Corps. I would definitely recommend the program!"

Tell me more about the internship program and employers you partner with.

Our internship program lasts 8 weeks in the summer. A minimum of 10-30 work hours per week and a rate of $10.35 per/hour is required. Most participants average between $12-15/hour. This summer, we had several youth participants secure internships, some of which are likely to lead to permanent employment.

Our Business Services Representative (BSR) is responsible for building relationships with local employers. They work together with our Youth Career Specialist to review the list of Career Corps participants to match them to intern opportunities with area employers where they will shine.

Those who are willing to take on interns have the benefit of us paying the salary so that the participant can get work experience through the internship. The employer must agree to take on the intern for a certain number of hours per week, pay an agreed-upon wage and provide progress reports at certain points during the internship. The employer is in communication with Career Corps staff, getting feedback and then working with the youth on areas that need improvement through workshops and coaching.

Bill O’Brien, Career Corps Business Services Representative said, “Many of our local employers would love to hire an intern, but can’t afford one. This is where the Career Corps comes in and is able to pay for the internship through the SLIP grant. It’s a win-win for the participant who needs work experience and for the employer who needs extra staffing without the cost.”

For info on creating a great internship program, read this blog.

What kind of employers recently provided internships for participants?

We partner with a lot of different local organizations. We’ve had success in connecting youth with certification training opportunities such as forklift training, CNA training and other high-demand jobs in Chester County, PA. Shown below are some of our recent Career Corps interns.

Allyson Career Corps Intern cropped
Mark Career Corps Intern
Reba Career Corps Intern
Kimberly Career Corp cropped

What else makes Career Corps unique … why should youth seek out your services?

We are the only CareerLink in the state of Pennsylvania that has the United Way Financial Stability Center onsite in our CareerLink. This is a great added service that offers youth financial management skills to help them launch into their next phase of life with strong fiscal responsibility and literacy.

Career Corps takes a holistic approach to youth education and employment. We serve youth as mentors and provide individualized attention, which ultimately helps them be more successful when they are ready to launch to the next stage. Our staff goes out of its way to connect with the kids in unique ways because they are passionate about helping them learn, grow and be successful, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Interested in launching a Career Corps program in your region? Ask your local WDB about youth programs or reach out to us for more information.