By: Rachel Calderone

Last Updated: January 5, 2022

The Center of Workforce Innovations has a mission to ensure a workforce exists in the Region now and in the future. In doing so, the not-for-profit organization has built programs to support the youth of the Region by giving them the skills to succeed as college students or workers in Northwest Indiana. Since 2006, the Center of Workforce Innovations has helped 2,325 students in the Region.

Tammy Stump is a Senior Workforce Associate and has been with the Center of Workforce Innovations since 2000. The majority of her time with the company has been spent overseeing youth programs for people aged 14 to 24. The Center of Workforce Innovations has multiple programs to help the youth in the Region, but the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program is highlighting the impact that the Center of Workforce Innovations has on the community.

JAG is a national, not-for-profit organization, which is also state-based. The program intends to assist at-risk high school students in transitioning from high school to postsecondary education or employment opportunities. As the Center of Workforce Innovations spearheads the program in Northwest Indiana, the company works with other local businesses to implement the lessons taught to Region youth.

“Indiana is one of those states that implements the JAG program. At the Center of Workforce Innovations, we receive the funds to apply for the JAG program, and we subcontract with an organization called JobWorks Inc. to deliver services,” said Stump.

The program focuses on upperclassmen in high school and looks to guide the students for a couple of years prior to graduation. The program targets skills to help make students employable and successful regardless of their chosen postsecondary path.

“In Indiana, we are focusing on a multi-year JAG program or program for juniors and seniors in high school. It’s actually a class they take at the high school as career exploration, and they’ll get high school credit for it. It focuses on the JAG program itself and is based on a model with three components,” said Stump.

These components help prepare students to take on responsibility in their chosen paths.

“The first component is employer based, where the students get work on employability skills. They work on interacting with employers. They might do what we call a work experience where they actually learn job skills at a worksite. The other component is project based learning, where a lot of the curriculum is set up to develop a product. They learn to communicate. They also do a lot of community service. So, they might use that project based learning to actually conceptualize what they want to do,” said Stump.

The third component goes beyond just skills to work but focuses on skills to thrive as the students near adulthood.

“The third component is trauma informed care. A lot of the youth we work with in the JAG program might be at risk of not graduating from high school. There can be many reasons why they could be considered at-risk. They could have some stress, especially with COVID the last couple years. There could be mental trauma or physical trauma. So when we’re working with these youths, we help them work to get over whatever trauma happened,” said Stump.

Learning to overcome trauma and challenges in one’s life is an important skill to become a successful adult. Sharing these three components with students in the JAG program builds a stronger community, and the Center of Workforce Innovations is building that community with 11 youth programs in 10 schools in the Region.

“In Lake County, we are in East Chicago High School, Hammond Central High School, Hammond Morton High School, Calumet New Tech High School, Gary West Side Leadership Academy, and 21st Century Charter School. We have two programs in River Forest High School, too. In LaPorte County, we are in Michigan City. In Starke County, we are at Knox High School and North Judson High School,” said Stump.

Each program at each of the schools serves about 40 students. Students learn skills for employability, such as how to create a resume, how to fill out job applications, how to interview, and how to network with others. Students get to explore what types of careers they might like through taking assessments that connect them with their identified interests. One of the highlights of the program is connecting students with professionals in the community as role models for their future work endeavors.

“Often they will bring in guest speakers to the classrooms to talk about their job or what they do. They also bring in post-secondary institutions like Ivy Tech, Indiana University Northwest, and Purdue Northwest. A lot of the students we work with tend to be first generation, college students. We want to make sure that they have exposure to those opportunities to meet with colleges and professionals that they might not get in the average classroom, whether they decide to go on to post secondary education or not. We would like every senior to fill out a college application, to apply for financial aid, and to look for scholarships. For those that decide to go on into the workforce, we want to make sure their employability skills are up to date. Sometimes we have students that aren’t sure what they want to do. So if they’re a senior who is graduating, we might refer them to our other programs with our Work One offices,” said Stump.

The students involved in the JAG program have many opportunities to build valuable skills for whatever career or education path they choose. Another great facet of the program is fostering leadership skills with the students.

“All the students have the opportunity to join a student-led organization on a national level, the JAG Career Association. The association has officers, like president, vice president, treasurer, or secretary. It might be very similar to student council, but they help organize classroom speakers, come up with ideas for community service projects, or plan tours. That helps sharpen the skills learned within the classroom,” said Stump. “They also get an opportunity to do some presentations or public speaking. Every year, we have a JAG Career Development Conference, where the students get to participate in different events like career presentation, employability skills, public speaking, critical thinking, writing financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. Students can also go to the State Career Development Conference and compete there as well.”

The JAG program works and has been building up Region students for many years. The success rates for students in this program, regardless of choosing to go straight to college or the workforce, is astounding.

“We average around 45% of all our seniors graduate and go on to post secondary education. We want them to be as prepared as possible. Even the class of 2020, who struggled through COVID, had a graduation rate around 95%, too. That is pretty good for those students that had to abruptly leave school due to COVID. We’re currently tracking our 2021 graduates, and that graduation rate is 90% right now. Even though they’ve experienced upset over the past two years, they’re learning and they’re still able to graduate,” said Stump.

Perseverance and positive influences is what helps the Center of Workforce Innovations lead the youth of Northwest Indiana toward success and prosperity.

To find out more about how the Center of Workforce Innovations helps the community, visit https://www.cwicorp.com/

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