NWI TIMES GUEST COMMENTARY: Transforming Indiana’s workforce

Doug Ross, June 30, 2019

Jobs for America’s Graduates provides high school students with skills to transform hopes and dreams into reality.

Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) is a state-based, national nonprofit dedicated to helping high school students of promise who have experienced challenging or traumatic life experiences achieve success through graduation. JAG is a resiliency-building workforce preparation program that helps students learn in-demand employability skills and provides a bridge to post-secondary education and career advancement opportunities. Funds are a mix of federal and state provisions.

The 2018-19 school year was a resounding success for the Department of Workforce Development’s Northwest Indiana program, managed by the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board and the Center of Workforce Innovations. For 13 consecutive years, the local JAG team has helped eligible high school students from across the region to acquire the workforce skill set they need to make their hopes and dreams a reality.

“Currently, we have 14 programs running in 12 high schools throughout Lake, LaPorte, and Starke counties,” said Tamara Stump, Senior Workforce Associate at the Center of Workforce Innovations. “This past school year, 560 local high school students benefited from the JAG program as an elective offered at their school.” Stump added that more than $2.53 million in post-secondary education scholarships were awarded this year to regional JAG students.

Domonique Wilson is the JAG Coordinator for the CWI, working together with juniors and seniors who want to better prepare themselves for life after high school. “The JAG program is an amazing opportunity for students who need a helping hand to move forward,” Wilson said. “Our class teaches them soft skills that they need when they enter the workforce. Many of our JAG members haven’t had the opportunity elsewhere to acquire these skills, so the program becomes their go-to in understanding how the working world really operates.”

Resume writing, mock interviews, professional communication, attention to detail, applying for college or the military, problem solving, and critical thinking are just some of the topics covered during the year-long elective class. “Students also meet employers who share information on what they seek from job candidates,” Wilson said. “It’s real help from employers in their community.”

Antwanae Jones is a graduate of West Side Leadership Academy, class of 2018. She spent two years as a member of the JAG program offered at her high school. “I always wanted to do something meaningful with my life after high school,” she said. “Sometimes you need guidance to fully understand what’s out there and how to incorporate that into your plan.”

The JAG specialist at West Side helped Jones decide she wanted to attend college for a medical career. “They helped me apply for grants and loans,” she said. “They also helped me learn what classes I needed to take at West Side so I would be ready for a college curriculum. The knowledge I acquired through JAG really prepared me for what I wanted after high school.”

This fall, Jones will be attending Indiana State University as a pre-med biology major. Her long-term goal is to become an anesthesiologist. “It’s a career I have always been attracted to and wanted to obtain,” she said. “The JAG program helped me acquire skills to get a job now, understand what high school classes I needed to attend college, how to apply for financial aid, and select a school that was a great fit. It’s amazing that this program is available.”

The availability of the program is based on JAG Specialists who acquire the training and education necessary in order to teach the class. Leslie Collins has been a specialist at West Side for three years, helping students navigate their way.

“As a case manager for the program, it’s important to connect with students and understand what’s important to them,” she said. “Some of the students are focused on working now, and then entering a professional career after graduation. Some want to sign up for the military and all the benefits that serving your country offers. Some want to attend college or a trade school. My role is to make certain that they understand the JAG program will provide them the tools needed for their goals. They just have to be willing to work hard and apply what they learn to their daily life.”

Collins works with guidance counselors at the high school to ensure students know the program is available and what it offers. “It’s an elective class, so students can take it as part of their everyday schedule,” she said. “I teach 37 different core competencies that cover everything from occupational interest to aptitude tests and then how to best reach your goal. It’s a very comprehensive program, and it requires students to really care about themselves and their futures.”

JAG has been a record-setting success in Northwest Indiana. “We have criteria to measure our success,” Stump said. “Locally, we have exceeded every metric. The Northwest Indiana program ranks high against the state and national programs.”

Savannah Anderson is a Class of 2019 graduate from East Chicago High School, and a member of the Cardinal’s JAG program. She earned a free trip to Washington D.C. by winning a JAG essay contest on employability skills.

“The program is an investment in yourself,” she said. “I always wanted to graduate and have the skills I needed to start on a career. The JAG program provides students with everything they need to work while in school and after graduation.”

She said the trip to Washington was a memorable experience, one she’ll never forget. “I got to sightsee and learn more about our country’s history,” she said. “I also learned a lot more about employability, which will help me now and later.”

Anderson will attend Purdue Northwest Hammond Campus this fall. She wants to be a psychologist and help counsel others the way JAG specialists helped her.

“I hope I’ll be able to give back a little,” she said. “That’s something I feel strongly about – helping others.”

High school students who are interested in the JAG program should ask their guidance counselors about the program’s availability in their school. Guidance counselors can contact the Tamara Stump at 219-462-2940, ext. 32 or tstump@cwicorp.com to learn more about the program, including the opportunity to bring JAG to their students.

The opinions are those of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board.

View article in the Northwest Indiana Times here.