It is the aim of public education to prepare K-12 students for life, but some students need a little more help than offers.
That’s where the Vocational Training Program comes into play. Offered by Barton County Special Services Coop, it provides additional help and training for high school students as well as for transitioning graduates up to the age of 21.
“We have revamped the work-study program,” said Trish Berger, vocational coordinator at Great Bend High School. “It’s an intensive Vocational Training Program in which students learn life and job skills.”
The idea is to train students to move into the local workforce so that they can live up to their full potential and be self-sufficient. The program focuses on specific community businesses that the student has chosen and concentrates on detailed skills such as filling out job applications and individual interviews.
“We are preparing kids to take entry-level jobs,” Berger said. “They are learning what is necessary to be employed.”
For many people entering the job market, the first step is applying for the job, Berger said. However, training for her students starts at a much more basic level. Lessons begin with personal hygiene, selection and upkeep of appropriate clothing and time management as well as actual skills required to do the job.
“We talk a lot about different types of jobs available to them so they have an abundance of knowledge about their choices,” she said, noting the program now has 13 local business partners, but two more will be added in the fall.
“We encourage students to choose from their options and try out as many jobs as interest them,” she said.
During this volunteer phase of learning, students are shadowed by school staff during their work hours to make sure they understand what the job entails and that they have all the support they need to succeed.
“Employers see what they can do before committing to hire them,” she said. “We focus on letting (businesses) know that our students are viable candidates for the job.”
After the initial phase of gaining work experience in a safe learning environment and the employer feels the student is ready, Berger said it then becomes the student’s choice of where to apply for a job. At that point the fledglings are pushed out of the nest, so to speak, she explained.
“They have to take the initiative to get the job,” Berger said. “They have to pick up the application and we fill it out together. They have to take it back and go for the interview. Once they are hired, they become employees just like everyone else.
“We are trying to get them to be independent,” she said. “We are focusing on long-term employment in the community. “It’s a win-win for everyone. The student becomes employed and the business has an employee qualified for the job.”
Berger noted that five students are already employed within the community in a variety of different settings. The program is seeking additional businesses with which to work.
Interested parties may call Berger, 620-793-1521.