New start-ups can take years before having an impact.
But that’s not the case with the Niagara Falls School District’s Post Secondary Success, or PS2 program.
In a few short months, PS2 is already making an impact in the community as business, labor and education leaders have teamed up to open opportunities to students as they prepare for life after high school.
PS2 is a “perfect fit” for the training and apprenticeship efforts of the local building construction and other skilled trades, said Randy Palladino, education and training director for Laborers Local 91.
The ability to attract students as the next generation of skilled trades professionals has been difficult for apprenticeship programs. Palladino said, “We have not necessarily been good at tooting our own horns. We hope this is going to help change that.”
The PS2 program helps take care of the promotional aspects, inviting students to participate at the high school level, preparing them to go to introductory training, and helping them to obtain the soft-skills necessary to begin exploring possible career paths.
“When (Falls Superintendent) Mark Laurrie asked me what we needed from him to move forward, I told him ‘the students, if you can just bus them here, we’ll do the rest’,” said Palladino. “We’ll pay for the materials, lunch, all the educational aspects.”
With an upcoming OSHA10 hour training course, one that Palladino said is necessary for those who wish to work on a construction site, students are spreading the information by word-of-mouth.
Palladino added, “We are excited about it.”
Local 91 is not the only PS2 partner enthusiastic about the program. The Sheraton at the Falls has seen similar successes according to Daniel Tighe, general manager for the hotel.
“We’ve had some challenges with staffing,” said Tighe, “We were brainstorming and talked with the schools about what we could do. A lot of students don’t know about us. It was about how we could get our name out there and let people know we are looking to hire for summer jobs.”
Tighe, who said the hotel has reduced its minimum hiring age from 18 year olds in the past, down to age-16 now, praised the programs they’ve developed with PS2. “The students they have provided have been outstanding; they come professionally dressed for the position they have an interest in.”
The program-planning, and the preparation students go through before they ever walk onto a site are provided by four school district employees, who have only been fully in their current roles as of this school year.
Julie Conti, Marc Dahl and Maria Sinatra divide the coordinating responsibilities, based on the type of post secondary opportunity the students are considering. Julianna Jacoby Patronski is the fourth team member, serving as job coach.
“I work with them in small groups, we work on their soft-skills and I come to understand their expectations,” said Jacoby Patronski, who also goes on site to make sure the expectations of partner organizations are being met.
Sinatra’s forte is getting the students prepared for opportunities in business and entrepreneurship, Conti works on coupling current high school programs with college opportunities and Dahl focuses in the areas of labor and technology.
“We had similar prior experiences with Niagara Catholic,” said Bob Confer, president of Confer Plastics in North Tonawanda. The method of allowing students to shadow employees at work and meet with management to discuss their thoughts and observations is one that PS2 has adopted.
Although he said he doesn’t anticipate the students who come through his plant will necessarily come to work there, he said it’s a worthwhile investment. Confer said, “Far too often companies complain about not being able to attract people. This gives us a chance to participate in the process of preparing students for life after school.”
“The students who participate with PS2 really do ask questions that are well thought out, questions you would not necessarily expect from young people with fewer life experiences,” said Frank Fedele, Confer’s chief financial officer, who helps coordinate the company’s efforts in onsite career-related educational initiatives.
“The participants are well-coached,” Fedele said, “and it has been explained to them that we are carving out time from our day to help.”
Upcoming activities for PS2 include a Junior Law Enforcement Academy this spring, in cooperation with the Law Enforcement Academy at Niagara County Community College, according to Conti, who also said she’s working with Niagara University on collaborative efforts.
Within Sinatra’s areas of responsibility, the program is reaching out to provide students with free information technology training at several large Buffalo firms, promoting job shadowing efforts in the healthcare field with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and teaming up with Sara Liberale of The Rose Hanger Shop in Lewiston.
Along with his collaboration with Palladino, Dahl points to several projects including one with Lakeside Quarter Horses in Youngstown, another with the Department of Environmental Conservation that helps with fisheries stockings in the Niagara River, and a comprehensive career exploration program planned for January in the Niagara Global Tourism Institute’s TReC building.
“We’re just getting started,” Dahl said.