Teen-agers to earn passports to the workplace

High school program set up to foster attitudes, abilities employers prize

September 10, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Students in Howard County's Cooperative Work Experience classes this year can look forward to entering the summer with a passport.

The document will not allow them to enter foreign countries, but it will tell local business leaders that the student has the potential to travel far in their companies.

The Passport to the Future, a program to be launched in schools this year through a partnership with the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, will serve as the business community's seal of approval on a student's preparedness for work.

The program, a voluntary effort on students' parts, is aimed at cultivating attitudes, behaviors and abilities that business leaders say are needed in entry-level positions. And in light of a recent survey of business leaders around the state that found a majority dissatisfied with Maryland's high school graduates' behavior and attitudes, the program couldn't start too soon, said Paula Blake, CWE coordinator for Howard County schools.

"Many of our students think appropriate behavior is the behavior they have with their friends," she said. "The passport is a way to motivate students to work harder for those positions they would be getting. It's a way to market working hard toward your future."

The program is the result of a three-year effort of the chamber to address work force issues that business leaders were confronted with daily - workers who were often late, rude, dishonest or ungroomed, according to Kara Calder, director of Government Affairs with the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

A group of about 12 business leaders worked with teachers in the CWE programs to come up with a list of behaviors and abilities potential employees should display routinely. These include the ability to work in a team and independently, meeting deadlines, being punctual, showing honesty and integrity and displaying self-control.

Students who apply to participate in the program will be observed throughout the school year by teachers, parents and others. At the end of the year, the students submit a packet of information that includes three reference forms, at least one of which is to be completed by someone not associated with the teen through school and who is not a family member.

Business leaders who work with the school will review the packets with students' transcripts, attendance records and resumes and determine if the student has earned the passport. Those who do not can remain in the program to be mentored in their weak areas, Calder said.

"One of our goals is to get kids to recognize their own abilities and the ways they can contribute to their own success," she said. "The vision is to have a program that any student can choose to pursue and something they can have that says, `My parents endorse me, my teachers endorse me, and now the business community endorses me.'"

The skills assessed in the program may seem basic, but having a program that cultivates and verifies those skills likely will be worth money, both for the leaders and the students.

"Knowing what I know about this program, I'd want to hire them on the spot before anyone else does," said Steve Girard, owner of the Bagel Bin stores in Columbia and Ellicott City, who also helped develop the program. "If young people come in with the attitude that `I'm here to learn and serve,' I can do anything with them."

Maintaining a good work force is a constant struggle in his stores, he said, so much so that he would consider giving a monetary bonus to students who successfully completed the program.

"If I know a young person came in with this certificate, I would be able to save so much on hiring because I wouldn't have to go through three kids to get one," Girard said. "The average young person is not coming in with a sense of values for the workplace. This is a way to ensure that when they come into the workplace, they have a tool box that's mostly full."

There are about 200 students in CWE classes in nine schools who will be eligible to participate in the Passport to the Future program this year, but Blake said she would like to see the program offered to all students in the future.

"It really offers something for everyone," she said. "For some students it shows they've made a commitment to do this. We want students to know it's important to achieve."

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