How 18-year-old seeking part-time work found ‘a way better job’

Shyann Harris doesn't brag about it. Sure, most people her age work in minimum wage or part-time jobs, not in a full-time professional position with the 14th largest company in the country.  

But she can’t take all the credit for the job she started this month at Cardinal Health in Twinsburg. Some of it goes to Y.O.U. (Youth Opportunities Unlimited), which creates career opportunities for young adults in Cuyahoga County. 

Harris, 18, would never have been prepared for the customer service job if she hadn’t seized that opportunity and gone through the Generation program run locally through Y.O.U. In fact, she’d probably have bombed the interview and not even gotten the chance.

"I was so bad at interviewing before (going through the program),” Harris said. “I was really horrible at it and I didn’t even know it.

"We actually had pretend interviews with the Y.O.U. coaches. I learned to answer the questions in a nice manner. I learned how to word things better. After all the skills I learned, I was just knocking out the questions.”

Generation is a 5-year-old program started by McKinsey & Co. that partners with employers to train young adults and connect them to the job market. The innovative model operates around the world and came to Cleveland for the first time last year, thanks to the partnership with Y.O.U.

Young adults go through a free, six-week training program that guarantees them a job interview at the end. Plus, they get paid to do it! 

Young adults in the Generation program run through Youth Opportunities Unlimited listen to guest speakers from Huntington Bank talk about money management.

Harris figured that sounded like a pretty good deal when she heard about the new program from her aunt. She had just graduated high school and was looking for a part-time summer job to make some money before enrolling in community college.

Instead, Harris entered the Y.O.U. customer care program where she learned how to make a good impression over the phone, how to make customers feel comfortable and how to handle real-life scenarios that could happen on the job. She and fellow participants also went through life skills training on budgeting money, building a resume, job interviewing and how to be professional in the workplace. They also got paired with a mentor to help them along the way. 

After going through the six-week, paid training Harris was able to interview for a good job in customer service at Cardinal Health. She got hired and started working full-time there in January.

Harris is still planning to go to college, but she’s not sure yet what to study. So first she wants to focus on her job for a while and then take advantage of her employer’s tuition reimbursement program when she decides whether to pursue business management, social work or something else in college.

“I was going to go to Tri-C and I was just looking for a summer job while waiting for school to start, but I ended up finding Y.O.U. and getting a way better job,” Harris said. “The program is definitely worth it if you don’t know what direction you want to go in.

“It’s a start, and they put money in your pocket.”

Harris is one of many success stories being shaped by Y.O.U., a nonprofit workforce development organization that since 1982 has reached more than 160,000 young adults ages 14 to 24 in Northeast Ohio. Generation is one of several Y.O.U. programs that bridge the skills gap in the local economy by connecting employers to the talent they need and giving young adults the skills they need to get jobs.

For example, Y.O.U. school-based programs each year help hundreds of teens prepare for the workforce through career readiness programs in resume writing and interviewing entrepreneurship training and internships. Y.O.U. community-based programs each year connect more than 4,000 teens and young adults to summer jobs, internships, and vocational training.

Y.O.U. also helps operate the Young Adult Resource Center (YRC) on behalf of OhioMeansJobs | Cleveland-Cuyahoga County. Located on the Garden Level of 1910 Carnegie Ave. in Cleveland, the YRC is a safe, positive space for people age 14-24 to build life and work skills. The YRC is staffed by Y.O.U. tutors who help with career coaching, training, job searches and connections to needed community resources. It’s open on a drop-in basis from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

It’s important work because the payback can be huge — not just for the individuals who go through the programs but for society as a whole. Each young adult who is “disengaged” — meaning they are neither in school nor employed — costs society more than $44,000 per year in missed wages, lost tax revenue, increased need for public assistance and other social services, according to a study cited in this recent report on Cuyahoga County.

That's a "fiscal and social burden” of more than $1 million over a lifetime and it adds up to a lot of extra costs and missed opportunities in Cuyahoga County, where one of every seven people age 16 to 24 — more than 21,000 young adults — are disengaged. The total cost to the local economy: more than $900 million per year. 

"Connecting young people to the workforce and future careers improves individuals’ prospects and is critical for a healthy economy and a well-functioning society,” the report concludes.

The programs run by Y.O.U. to help youth become and remain engaged with school and career tracks are investments that pay dividends.

Carli Cichocki