PUBLISHED: 3:53 PM on Wednesday, March 19, 2008
New program sends youths down a career path
JUNEAU - Zach Pratt wasn't having trouble finding a job, but finding a career ... that was something different. When the 17-year-old applied for jobs in hopes of becoming a personal trainer he was met with closed doors each time.

That is, until JobX, a new program by The Learning Center, helped him get a foot in the door - and possibly a few steps down a career path.

Charles Westmoreland photo / Illustration by Anna Millard
  Zach Pratt, an employee at Pavitt Health and Fitness on Glacier highway, adjusts weights for Natalie Norberg. Pratt started the job with help from The Learning Center's JobX program, but will likely stay employed there after completing the program's 150-hour requirement.
"I could find a job in a lot of places, but really, I wanted a job I would like," said Pratt, who also is working toward his high school degree.

The purpose of JobX is to prepare out-of-school youths from 16-24 years of age to be "job ready" in today's workforce. The program pays for JobX employees and the JobX work site provides mentorship and supervision.

"It's a win-win situation for everybody," said Nicole Skeek, JobX job developer. "Employers get free labor and the youth gets the experience they need to make it in the work force."

JobX is funded by grant money and pays employee salaries of $7.50 per hour so businesses will open their doors to youths like Pratt in hopes of chartering them down a career path. But the goal, said Skeek, is for the workers to be retained after they complete the 150-hour program.

"Most employers don't want to have to re-train another employer and have that time go to waste, and we're hoping that if the employee works hard and does a good job the employer will keep them after the 150 hours," she said. "This gives youths a chance to get jobs they couldn't get on their own."

Pratt could be JobX's first success story. Pratt is now working at Pavitt Health and Fitness on Glacier highway, a place where he had applied to before but with no avail. The staff at The Learning Center worked with Pratt in advance on interviewing skills, helped him craft a resume, and his case manager, Shannon Straight, even attended the interview at Pavitt.

Charles Westmoreland photo
  Nicole Skeek, JobX job developer with The Learning Center, works a booth during the March 12 Job Fair held at Centennial Hall. Skeek was recruiting both employers and candidates to participate in the program. "I'd love to expand my web of businesses," she said.
"We want young people to be successful and understand the process of getting a job," Straight said. "It's good to talk with them in advance and help them get prepared."

With help from JobX, Pratt is on his way to becoming a personal trainer, and will likely be kept on staff after he finishes the program, said Pavitt Health and Fitness General Manager Kirk Burke. Burke interviewed Pratt himself and said he got the kind of employee he was expecting.

"I was expecting to get a hard working young man, and that's what (Pratt) has shown me," Burke said. "It's a great experience. We plan on keeping Zach for the long-haul as long as he wants to work here. He provides a different kind of energy as a young person."I think its an excellent program, that's the main reason we got involved," he continued. "I would definitely suggest other businesses look into a program like this. This is a small community and they are our future. We need to give (youths) an opportunity to be around quality people."

But joining the program isn't as simple as signing a form. Straight and Skeek say only youths serious about working hard and pursuing a career path need apply, and there is mandatory preparation before going on the first interview.

"We want to give them the work skills they need to succeed and we also advocate continued education," Skeek said. "But we need them to be motivated. They have to want to work and learn something new."

Skeek and Straight meet with youths to develop work skills and explain employer expectations. Youths in the program also are required to register with the Alaska Career Information System (AKCIS), perform a self-evaluation and develop soft skills, such as: punctuality, professionalism, communication, time management, and how to properly fill out applications.

Once youths complete the initial preparation, JobX uses its web of employers to find the right match.

"We pound the pavement and find something appealing to them," Straight said.

The job developers also conduct weekly follow-ups with the employers to ensure youths are holding up their end of the deal.

So far, almost 20 youths have been placed in jobs ranging from childcare to construction and administration. One youth who wanted to pursue criminal law was placed with the Juneau Police Department, Skeek said. About 45 youths are in the process of "getting job ready" and more than 30 employers have signed on board with JobX, but Skeek said she is always looking to "expand the web of businesses."

But for the program to be considered a success by those providing the grant, 65 youths need to complete the program by June 23.

"We can place 65 youths in a job, but will they get a career out of it?" Skeek said.

Juneau youths are the testing base for the program, but JobX employees are hopeful the program can spread to other areas in Southeast Alaska.

To learn more about being a JobX work site or if you might be eligible to join the program, call The Learning Center at 586-5718 or stop by at 210 Ferry Way. Learn more on the web at