Story last updated at 2:57 p.m. Friday, April 12, 2002

Flex program builds job skills
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
Homer Flex High School student Tiffany Shoultz hammers grommets on a brailer bag at her second day on the job at NOMAR, while Bobbie Briggs supervises her progress.  
Like most 16-year-olds, Tiffany Shoultz is hungry for more independence, respect and the experiences that come with adulthood.

Last week, Shoultz, a junior at Homer Flex High School, took a big step toward those goals when she landed an after-school job at the NOMAR boating and clothing supply shop. While the money will help pay for her car insurance and other basic necessities, the job experience will likely pay more substantial rewards in Shoultz' future.

For many teens, however, trying to enter the work force plunges them into an unknown world where potential employers scrutinize everything from the firmness of their handshake to their hair color. With little to no employment experience, teens must convince employers that they are dependable and industrious, often working against the stereotype of the insubordinate American teen. Others are unaware of the many employment and career resources and choices available in the Homer area and beyond.

A program recently expanded at the Homer Flex High School aims to dispel much of the mystery about the formula for getting a job and to arm the students with a portfolio and a broad understanding of career choices in the area.

In its first year as a term-long class, the Flex program hopes to glean more information from the Homer business community about what skills employers are looking for as well as showcase the skills Flex students already have. Flex canvassed many businesses with an employer survey, and was to have held an open house Wednesday night in hopes of developing more communication between the school staff, students and employers.

Though many teen-agers find easy employment in fast-food and other entry level jobs, teacher Jill Sill said it is crucial that Flex students explore career-building opportunities. Many of the students attending the alternative public high school already live on their own, and several have children to support.

Sill said the career development program has helped several students like Shoultz find employment, but the positive impacts go much further than an after-school job.

"Our goal was that they leave the program with basic employability skills, and have an idea of what options are out there as far as apprenticeships, trade schools or whatever they want," Sill said.

Students were asked where they wanted to be 10 years from now, and the ideal goals were broken down into more attainable sections.

"Through discussions, we determine what they like, what they enjoy," Sill said.

A large portion of the class is devoted to developing a portfolio including students' skills, letters of recommendation, and a sample of the students' best work as well as a resume and employment application.

"They really like (the portfolios) in the end," Sill said. "They can say, 'I created this and it's all about me.'"

Students work to perfect the oh-so-delicate skill of interviewing for a job, practicing their skills with both Sill and members of the business community they did not know. Before the interviews, Sill reviewed the many subconscious saboteurs of any interview, such as slouchy posture, lack of eye contact and fidgeting hands.

The practice paid off, said Sue Kohltfarber, an employment specialist with the Homer Job Center.

"What I saw in the mock interviews was a sense of confidence that I think employers don't often see because students don't know how to express themselves," she said. "These students were very well prepared."

The class covers issues such as workplace ethics with the students, comparing what an employer expects from their employees to what the students expect from a friend.

"Almost all those qualities transpose very well," Sill said.

Students were taught about their rights as an employee, and debated controversial subjects such as workplace surveillance. They also looked at employment projections and where to find job opportunities such as state web sites and other resources.

Student Shoultz said the class has been helpful, and she's glad to be given the opportunity to prove that a 16-year-old can be just as responsible as someone older.

"(The class) gives you a knowledge of what you would like to do," Shoultz said, adding she has learned about employment opportunities she didn't know existed. "You forget about all those little jobs."

Sill said some organizations in Homer have already created ongoing positions and apprenticeships ideal for high-school students. She hopes more opportunities will arise as employers understand the skills high school students have to offer. Federal funding is available for some positions, which may help businesses that want to employ students but don't have the funds, she said.

"We want to say, 'Hey, our kids are wonderful,' and we want to learn more from employers," Sill said. "We want to increase that connection."

Anyone wishing to fill out a questionnaire for the Flex program or looking for more information can contact the school

at 235-5558.