Mayor Daniel Bianchi presented certificates to the graduates.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A state grant put 44 of the city's youth to work this summer.
The Youth Works program wrapped up Friday with a graduation ceremony in the City Council Chambers. The program, through the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board and Berkshire Works, accepts workers between the ages of 14 and 21 and tries to give them the skills and experience needed to secure future jobs.
"We are investing in our future. It is very important that our young people can find jobs in the summer," BerkshireWorks Executive Director John Barrett III said.
The state granted BCREB $119,000 this year for the program, the most it has given in the nine years the program has been in Pittsfield, according to Heather Williams, BCREB's youth director. The money is distributed to programs in cities with high poverty rates and those enrolled need to show economic and other barriers to employment.
The students are picked through the school system and the Adult Learning Center but need to go through an application process and interview. Local businesses and organizations provide the opportunities while the grant pays the youth for their work. Those enrolled work 25 hours a week for six weeks.
"It replicates real work experience," Williams said.
Williams said youth employment rates are the lowest they have been since the 1940s while real work experience is critical to future success. The jobs were all entry level, ranging from buildings and grounds to food service to clerical.
Program Director Melanie Gelaznik added that the program kicks off with one week of seminars teaching those enrolled an array of work skills including proper attire, the importance of showing up on time and even how social media can affect employment.
This year, 55 workers were enrolled in the program but 11 did not complete it. Barrett said the organizations held the workers to very high standards to set the bar for the next class.
Michael Dunne, program coordinator, says he saw "tremendous growth" in those who participated.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi handed out certificates for completing the program, saying there is nothing more important than helping to "set the foundation" for career skills. He, among others, credited state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who attended the ceremony, for fighting to increase the allocation for the program.
"Every year our delegation has been wonderful," Williams said. "This was the most money we've received."
Williams added that this year the program received an additional $50,000 to keep some participants who are not in school employed for the next year.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.