PartnerUP’s pre-employment training is a model for helping students take next steps after high school

The second annual Super Day for PartnerUp represented a tremendous opportunity for students. As apparent as that was, it was equally clear that the program holds real promise for employers.

“It’s helping us touch a group of candidates we weren’t reaching before,” said Ardene Roach, a recruiter from PNC Financial Services Group, which began piloting PartnerUp last year in collaboration with the Consortium.

“It’s bringing us these young people who are looking to grow their careers” echoed Comcast recruiter Melissa Hychalk.

Hychalk sees an advantage in recruiting high school students. “They’re so fresh and new, you can mold them into being the employees you want them to be,” she said.

PartnerUp is a pre-employment training program that now reaches nine high schools, a majority in some of our region’s most under-resourced districts. Initially aimed at seniors who planned to enter the workforce immediately after graduation, the program has expanded this year to juniors as well.

A total of about 2,100 students participated in PartnerUp during this school year, a tenfold increase from last year.

Super Day scenes at the Consortium

In addition to helping students develop the soft, transferrable skills that all employers demand, PartnerUp also prepares them for job searches. They learn to identify their skills and discuss how they’d be applicable in the workplace; engage in mock interviews and get support for writing resumes.

It’s important for students with little to no experience, but who have the skills we look for, to get these opportunities,” said Brianna McMeekin, Assistant Vice President and Assistant Talent Program Manager at PNC, who delivers PartnerUp’s pre-employment training in schools.  “For us, PartnerUP is a workforce development tool, but we want the program to help guide and prepare high school students for their next steps, whether that next step is at PNC or elsewhere.”

At the end of the school year, Super Day gives all participating seniors the opportunity to interview for jobs with participating companies. Along with PNC, employers this year included Allegheny Health Network, Comcast and People’s Natural Gas Co.

This year’s Super Day took place May 16th. It brought some 50 of these young adults through the Consortium’s offices from morning until early afternoon. Their excitement was palpable as was the impact the program has had on them, according to company recruiters.

“They’ve come so far from when the training started at the beginning of the school year,” said PNC’s Roach.

Karla Iorio, a recruiter for Allegheny Health Network (AHN) agreed. She said the students “really shined” in the interviews after the coaching they received and was particularly excited about seeing the growth in a couple who “I really connected with and helped mentor.”

Connecting with high school students is important, Iorio added. “We foresee huge growth in certain (hiring) areas over the next several years,” she said, noting that PartnerUp can help AHN’s recruitment prospects by “just getting us out there and helping us advertise what we have to offer.”

When hospitals can’t find ways to showcase the career paths they offer outside of clinical care, those job opportunities can end up in a blind spot for students.

“We’re not just doctors and nurses,” Iorio said. “These kids might not think we employ cooks or carpenters, electricians and plumbers, but we offer all of those jobs.”

Employers participating in PartnerUp are recruiting for their entry-level jobs. At Comcast, that might mean working in the call center on customer care or at AHN, it might mean something in food service or housekeeping.

But all of the employers regard the jobs as stepping stones from which young recruits without college degrees not only can build careers, but often can also obtain tuition support to further their educations.

Like growing numbers of companies, employers participating in PartnerUP increasingly are working to promote from within.

As PNC’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Demchak pointed out at the Consortium’s Future Ready Partnership Conference in April, an upfront investment in talent pays off in the long run.

“Companies are finding that retention is so much easier than attraction,” said Susie Puskar, Director of Youth Innovation at Partner4Work, who attended Super Day as a supporter. “We’re thrilled to see leading companies in the region investing in talent and identifying the pool of high school students within our region as a key resource to develop.”

Of course, no one could be happier than the students benefitting from that investment.

“This is a huge opportunity,” said Maddy Boynton, who participated in PartnerUp’s pilot as a McKeesport High School senior. She should know. Boynton was hired at the end of the pilot a year ago to work in PNC’s call center and already has had her first promotion.

Now a member of the Human Resources Department’s Enterprise Team, she said “PNC is definitely wonderful in helping you grow as a person and in your career.”