A few years ago, Kiyontus Allen was moving in the wrong direction — and didn’t know how to stop. Sure, he’d graduated from Fountain-Fort Carson High School on time back in 2013, but he’d floundered ever since, and lacked motivation and purpose.
“After high school, I was kind of a lazy guy,” Allen said. “I tried to go to trade school but didn’t like it. I used to listen to my friends and was getting in bad situations.”
Before long, it went from bad to worse.
“I lost two of my friends last year,” said Allen, 22. “They made crazy mistakes — there was some violence — and lost their lives.”
That made an impression on him.
“I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to live like that anymore,” he said. “I figured it was time for a change.”
His mechanism for change became the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. And it made a difference.
Allen went through PPWFC’s three-day soft skills training and joined the five-day immersion program where he worked at The Academy Hotel, which then offered him an internship through PPWFC.
He was paid for 360 hours of work, but actually earned a bigger prize at the end of his internship: The Academy Hotel offered him full-time employment.
“I feel pretty accomplished,” Allen said. “This will be the best job I’ve ever had.”
It almost didn’t happen.
“When I started the internship, I was lazy and didn’t like getting up,” he said. “The Workforce Center set me up with a case manager and he helped me a lot. He helped me focus on what was important to me.
“I’m very appreciative. If not for the Workforce Center, who knows what I’d be doing. I’m really grateful; they’ve done a lot for me.”
Not only has Allen paid off all his bills, he’s developed a “drive to be more responsible,” he said. “I’ve learned some values. It’s changed me a lot.”
Amanda Clifton, the hotel’s human resource manager, has watched Allen progress from the immersion program to an internship to full-time employment.
“Kiyontus has excelled,” Clifton said. “The people in this [PPWFC] program really want to work. They know it’s a chance to better their lives. The ones that don’t want to work will leave.”
Allen is proud of his recent choices, and is determined to make the most of his new circumstances.
“I’m very thankful for this opportunity,” he said. “I could’ve ended up somewhere I really don’t want to be.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Debbie Shackelford and Bob Gemignani work together to help disadvantaged youths take their first step on the ladder of success.
Shackelford is PPWFC’s youth services team leader and Gemignani the business specialist at the organization that serves El Paso and Teller counties. Both left the private sector — Gemignani was in sales and Shackelford in banking — to do something they felt was more meaningful.
“We’re helping some of these kids, hopefully, get out of generational poverty and see that they have a future,” Shackelford said. “We’re dealing with a lot of second-chance kids. They say it’s changing the path of their lives.”
The Work Readiness Series began in February, and the Industry Champions Immersion Program in March. Participants earn $10.04 an hour in those programs and as interns. PPWFC pays the wages; funding comes largely from the Department of Labor with a small portion from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Authorization is through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
WIOA, instituted nationwide this year as a replacement for the Workforce Investment Act, changed guidelines for funding, mandating that 80 percent of the grant money must be spent on young adults who have specific barriers to gaining employment. Previously, 75 percent of grant money was targeted for youths who were actively attending high school.
“WIOA asked us to serve more difficult communities,” Gemignani said.
It’s a win-win, he said.
“By employing young people who are on public assistance, you are eliminating a huge burden to the taxpayer,” Gemignani said. “The real end goal is to plug them into the economy somehow.”
It’s not always easy, but Shackelford waxed poetic about changes she invariably sees in the young adults who participate in the three-day soft skills training as they gain confidence in what they might accomplish.
“It’s an amazing transformation from Wednesday morning to Friday graduation,” she said.
A PPWFC counselor works with the young adults on resumés and interview skills, and helps them determine their skills and interests.
Of those who enter the immersion program, about 40 percent get internships.
“We’re taking in broken kids that are called ‘opportunity youth,’ that are disconnected from employment and education, and we’re providing them with the resources they need to land on an entry-level career ladder in some industry,” Gemignani said. “We inform them; we coach them up; we train them.”
For some youths, it’s about getting experience in the workforce through immersion and an internship; for others, it’s about obtaining an educational certificate or a GED, with PPWFC covering the cost. PPWFC also offers a $25 gift certificate for Discover Goodwill stores as part of its three-day soft skills class.
“We are paying the wages for the immersion and internship programs, but the employer has skin in the game too,” Gemignani said. “They’ve got to provide coaching, supervision and mentorship to these young people.”
During immersion, Shackelford said, “It’s a great weeklong interview for the employer.”
An expanding program
Andy Gilliland of the Colorado Sheet Metal Training Institute has brought on nine young adults from the PPWFC immersion program. He offered one of them, Mozelle Stewart, a full-time job.
“She’s very good in the shop,” he said. “She’s been with us about two months and has really taken to it.”
Eight businesses are involved with the Industry Champions Immersion program: Altitude Hospitality, Colorado Sheet Metal, Discover Goodwill, the Colorado Springs Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, GE Johnson Construction, Hotel Eleganté, The Academy Hotel, and the partnership of May Trucking and the U.S. Truck Driving School.
“We’re looking to add in-demand industries in our area,” Gemignani said. “The No. 1 demanded occupation in our area is registered nurses, and there are other certifications under that like LPN and CNA. The third most demanded occupation in our area is transportation drivers, CDL drivers, and fifth or sixth is skilled trades.”
“It’s a win-win,” Gilliland said. “The Workforce Center is sending out applicants and we’re getting a no-cost chance to work with them in an extended interview. I had reservations at first, but Bob’s team and the Youth Group are great to work with. I’ve already talked with several companies and told them it’s absolutely a good idea to do this. You might come out with a diamond.”
Clifton said The Academy Hotel just finished with two more immersion participants and offered one of them an internship.
“This offers local businesses the opportunity to mentor young adults and give them good skills to carry into the future,” Clifton said. “I’d suggest other local businesses give it a chance.”
To learn more about PPWFC’s opportunities for young adults, go to ppwfc.org or call 719-667-3860.