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Teaching Jobs Skills to Foster Care Youth

By Reyna Gobel

Ozarks Technical Community College is piloting a program to help youth exiting foster care gain customer service job skills.

Community colleges have long served populations that are underrepresented in higher education. Students who have been in foster care have among the lowest high school and higher education success rates.

This past semester, Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) in Springfield, Mo., began a pilot project to help foster care youth age 17 to 21 prepare to enter the workforce. Students in the program take a 10-week course at the college that focuses on how to find and keep a customer service job. They then receive yearlong follow-up mentoring to help them succeed in the workforce and in life.

We found out more about what this program covers and how the first course went.

How did the program start?

A year ago, the Missouri State Division of Workforce Development and Missouri State Department of Social Services decided to fund grants to colleges that offer a course and services to help youth exiting the foster care system enter the workforce. OTC and St. Louis Community College are currently piloting the program.

What subjects does the 10-week course cover?

“We cover resume and interview skills, professional attire, and skills needed for customer service occupations, from call centers to retail environments,” says Marilyn Madden, coordinator of OTC’s Missouri Customer Service Partnership. On one field trip during the course, students were given $150 to buy professional clothes to seek employment. Many of the young men learned to tie a tie for the first time.

Upon completion of the course, students earn four college credits. “We thought it was important students earned college credit for their work so they knew they were capable of and experienced college-level coursework,” she says.

How big is the class?

Class size is limited to 15 students. “It was important for us to keep everything in one classroom because college was an intimidating concept for many of the students,” Madden says.

What do course instructors need to be aware of with this student population?

A rotating group of OTC professors and adjuncts teach this workplace skills course. Madden says that these students have different levels of socialization than non-foster care students. “A student thanked me for taking him bowling on a field trip,” Madden says. “He’d never been.” Only one student in the first course had a foster family; the rest lived in group homes.

What happens after the 10-week program ends?

Students then start a 12-month program in which mentors help them navigate work life. They also have monthly modules on life skills, such as budgeting, working as a team and problem solving. Each module is taught by an expert from the community, preferably in a venue that offers some sort of entertainment. The program is as much about learning skills as it is about socializing with peers and understanding how to effectively communicate with co-workers and supervisors. “Our ultimate goal is for students to develop the confidence to do anything they want, including continue their educations,” Madden says.

Does your college have a special program for former foster care youth? Tell us about it in the Comments.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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