REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Tamara Richardson knows what it's like to be on the "ground floor" of a new program.

The teen has the distinction of being the first at Redstone to participate in the HIRED! Apprenticeship Program, offered through the Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation's Child Youth and School Services program.

Last spring, when she signed up for HIRED!, Richardson was not only the first teen in the program, but also its only teen.

That's enough to give any young person the first-time jitters, especially when you hope to land your first job and gain some work experience.

But Richardson got a lot of help and support from HIRED! coordinator Yolande Lewis, who coached her through employment and career classes, and her first position as an apprentice with the summer camp program offered by Child Youth and School Services.

"At first, I was kind of scared," she said of her first job experience. "But she helped me and I got better at it. I didn't know what to expect."

While Richardson enjoyed her summer camp employment, this term she is working at the Property Book Office.

"I learned a whole lot about customer service at CYSS," said Richardson, a Columbia High School senior who has plans to be a nurse.

"Now, I'm learning other things that are also important. This is helping me to understand what it takes to be a good employee. It's made me appreciate more the value of things, and to be aware and to be open to new things."

Richardson is now one of about 20 teens age 15 to 18 participating in HIRED!, a work force preparation and apprenticeship enterprise designed to meet the employment and career exploration needs of Army teens. The program consists of three 12-week terms each year that include career classes and job experience with organizations on Redstone. The next term begins Monday.

"This is a brand new Armywide program. But not all Army installations have implemented it yet," Lewis said.

"It is an apprenticeship program. The kids come in and learn about things like work force preparation, how to be a good employee, resume writing, how to interview, how to dress for an interview and college admissions."

The teens also learn about different career possibilities, conflict resolution, financial planning, time management and customer service. They are required to take six hours of apprenticeship classes, with three in work force preparation, two in secondary education and one in financial management. They are also required to work 15 hours a week for a total of 180 hours for the HIRED! apprenticeship term.

"The classes we teach are really good for the apprentices. But the added benefit is the on-the-job training they received," Lewis said. "We are always looking for employers and different organizations on post where our apprentices can train and mentor during the term. It's sort of like job shadowing, but they also contribute to the work environment."

So far, most of the teens have been placed with FMWR organizations. But they can work with any Redstone organization.

"We have kids working at Outdoor Recreation, Arts & Crafts, Auto Skills Center, library, lodging, the Youth Center and the Child Development Center," Lewis said. "During the terms, the apprentices have to work on post. But they can take what they learn and apply it in future jobs off post and in their careers."

As an apprenticeship program, Lewis stressed that participants are not considered employees. They do not receive pay from the employing organizations. But, at the end of the term, they receive a cash incentive award ranging from $500 to $725 through a program the Army has established with Kansas State University.

"The intention of the program is to teach these apprentices how to be good employees," Lewis said. "That's why it is important that our mentoring organizations can actually help these apprentices to know what it's like to have a job."

Lewis is always in search of Redstone organizations who want to participate in HIRED!. But she is also interested in recruiting volunteers who can speak to the apprentices on various employment subjects and careers.

"I don't mind asking people to come and volunteer to talk to the classes. I don't mind selling the program because I believe in this program," Lewis said. "It's ultimately about our kids. It's about giving our next generation a solid foundation so they can be good employees. Even now, when I sit in on the classes, I think to myself 'Gee, I wish someone had told me that when I was a teenager.'"

On a recent Spring Break day, the HIRED! apprenticeships were attending a day of workshops at the Youth Center. Staff Sgt. Henry Steedley of the Army's University Drive Recruiting Station was among the day's speakers. He talked to the apprentices about the differences between the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and about military careers.

"Check out all the branches," he said. "And, if you choose a branch other than the Army, people will respect that. But explore all your options. Which one is going to benefit you the most'"
For Casey Vervaet, a senior at Columbia High, his first term with HIRED! has been well worth it.

He has spent his working days at Outdoor Recreation, renting campers, making sure hunters are licensed and helping with the organization's operations.

"I really like meeting new people. This program gave me a nice job opportunity," Vervaet said. "It's a great way to open doors."

Vervaet hopes to continue with Outdoor Recreation this summer and then go on to pursue a college degree at Marion Military Institute and West Point. He hopes to become an explosive ordnance disposal officer.

"I have really appreciated all the information we've gotten through the classes on scholarships, college life and college admissions," Vervaet said.

"If I wasn't doing this, I would be laying around the house, doing nothing. It's great to get up and get going to a job. It gives me something to look forward to."

Editor's note: For more information about HIRED! or to volunteer, call Yolande Lewis at 876-5437.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16