U.S. Rep. John Tierney told six Lynn students he had "high hopes" for their success in the workforce during a round table meeting at the Lynn Vocational Technical Institute's Tiger Den to discuss a reauthorization of the 14-year-old Workforce Investment Act.
"Most of you have already made a (career) decision, which is a huge first step," Tierney said. "You're going to kill it."
Over a meal of beat salad, roasted chicken and baked apples cooked by Lynn Tech culinary students, Tierney met with the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, Superintendent Catherine Latham and a group of Lynn Tech students to discuss his bill to reauthorize the act, which was originally passed in 1998 to expand opportunities for workers and help businesses staff high-skilled and open positions.
Tierney and U.S. reps Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) and George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced the new version of the act last month, and Tierney said the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to move forward on the reauthorization in the coming months.
Speaking to six Tech students, each mulling a different career path, Tierney said he felt encouraged about the future when he looked at young people who are already honing skills for jobs "that actually exist."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 3.5 million open jobs nationwide, but many cannot be filled due to a lack of qualified candidates, Tierney said.
Over lunch, Tierney asked 17-year-old Lynn Tech junior Jonathan Flores about a speech he wrote that earned him a spot in a statewide contest about how his freshman English teacher, Mr. McCuish, changed his life by taking him from aspiring gang-banger to aspiring automobile designer.
"When I came to this school I was really into life on the street," Flores said. "(McCuish) motivated me to continue my education and pushed me."
Flores, a junior, said he wants to attend the University of Michigan because it has "the best" automotive engineering program.
Having a well-rounded, meaningful education gives a person a leg up in the job search, Tierney said, because employers want to see an expansive knowledge base, and even a technical business wants workers who can communicate and be creative. This was good news for Tech junior Betsy Sanchez, 17, who wants to study film at Emerson College.
"Whatever you decide to do, take other courses," Tierney urged the students. "You only have one chance to go to school."
Two adult clients of the North Shore Career Center shared their stories of finding themselves suddenly without the lucrative jobs they had held for years, and turning to the center for help starting over.
Ed Flynn, who formerly made $36 per hour managing a factory that made Gillette razors, encouraged the students to think creatively when seeking jobs and make sure to never leave room for employers to ask, "Why didn't you finish school?"
Workforce Investment Boards funded by the act oversee such one-stop career centers designed to help people with their job searches, as well as provide occupational and training courses.
"I liked that they expressed their career paths," Sanchez said. "It helps to know that sometimes you're gonna get shut down, but you have to keep your head up."
Senior Tirsa Gutierrez, 18, told Tierney she will be attending his alma mater Salem State University next year and knows she wants to be a middle school math teacher, and said she feels prepared to enter the job market thanks to workshops on interview skills and resume writing provided by Girls Inc.'s Careers and Life Planning program.
"If I wouldn't have attended Career Plan I wouldn't even be here," Gutierrez said. "I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't know what level."
Mary Sarris, executive director of the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, said that the bill would help the board fund its First Jobs program, aimed at helping youths find their first jobs, which she said can be nearly impossible in a struggling economy
"The most important thing is for a student to have a summer job, and/or a school-year job," Sarris said. "Everyone remembers their first job. It's something that really sticks with you."
Gutierrez said a summer job at a daycare and being a mentor for middle school-age students at Girls Inc. told her what she wanted to do. Her friend Nakeva Johnson, 18, said she gained confidence along with life skills during a photography internship, funded by the Workplace Investment Act, at the Daily Item last summer.
"What you're seeing is that job security is not really there anymore," Tierney said. "This bill is designed to put everyone on the path to get the education and skills they need to get back in the workforce, and it needs to be modernized."