Highland County’s Youth Employment Program Returns for Sixteenth Year


There is a mindset that its best to start young to compete in today’s marketplace, and Highland County’s Youth Employment Program is back again this year to help young folks get started with real life employment skills.  The Highland Center has run the program for sixteen years, and Youth Coordinator, Josh Umar, has more details.

Mr. Umar says, “The structure’s going to be very similar to what you’ve seen in the past.  There’s going to be work experiences for the kids and also educational sessions, so we match young people with worksites and help pay their wages, so that they can develop what often gets called employability skills, or soft skills, which basically amounts to all of the things that go in to professionalism, so communication, conflict resolution, punctuality, personal skills, all those things that they get practice at through the program.  And they get to try different jobs and different careers and sort of see what might be a fit for them, and then all the while, we are providing them with educational opportunities, things like financial literacy, how to do a resume, CPR-certification, practice job interviews, all those kinds of things, and it just sort of runs together through the summer.  And then, of course, for businesses who participate, it’s a really good opportunity for them to pick up some summer help, but also give some of these young people a chance to try out a job or try out a career and really mentor them through that process.”

Mr. Umar continues, “It has been growing like crazy in the past few years.  Compared with two years ago in 2015, we’re looking to have probably four times the number of worksites that we did and double the number of kids involved, and that has kind of told us that the program is in high demand, and so what we’re going to do is try to expand a little bit this year, and make, at least, the educational sessions and shadowing days and internships, we’re going to try to make those year round, rather than just over the summer.  So, we’re going to try to do things on social media.  We’re going to try to get an entrepreneurship class going so that the young people always have the mindset of trying to start businesses and working for themselves.”

Mr. Umar adds that the program is a community effort that helps Highland County stand out.  He says, “There’s a lot of counties that would love to have something like it and can’t seem to do it.  Getting the parents and the kids and the worksites and the school and the donors all on the same page every single  year as we’ve been able to do, it’s a big lift, but the community makes it possible, and so, it’s just nice for me to be a part of something like that that is a sort of a point of pride that something that Highland can do that maybe some other counties have trouble putting it together.”

To show appreciation to worksites, signs are planned to be given out to showcase their involvement.  Mr. Umar concludes, “If you see one of those signs in a window this summer, go on in and say ‘hello,’ and give that young person a chance to impress you.  You may be surprised.”

Applications for the Youth Employment Program were made available on April 24th.  Anyone between the ages of 14 and 20 can apply.  Mandatory Program Orientation for those working begins on Monday, June 12th, and work experiences run from June 19th to August 11th.   The Highland Center pays the wages for Youth Employment Program workers each summer, and the number of hours available for each worker depends on worksite needs and the available budget.  In addition, the free educational sessions take place year around and will be open to participants, as well as youths outside of the 14 to 20 year old age range. Interested parents, applicants or those wishing to have their businesses become worksites can contact Josh Umar at 540-468-1922, joshuaumar@htcnet.org or on Facebook.

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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