Just over a year ago, GradLeaders launched a partnership with Goodwill Industries of North Florida, Inc (GWINFL) based in Jacksonville, Florida. At the time, one of their mission programs called the Mayor’s Youth at Work Partnership (MYAWP), sponsored by the Jacksonville Mayor’s office, was seeking a software solution to automate, streamline and measure many aspects of their youth career program.
MYAWP provides eligible youth between the ages of 16 and 21 enrolled in a Duval County High School, GED program, high school equivalency program technical school, or college, with paid work experiences. Goodwill Industries of North Florida manages the program and works directly with youth applicants and local employers. Participating students and employers are aligned to a job coach who facilitates job placement, provides support, coaching, and acts as a liaison between the student and employer. In addition to work experience, students learn about work norms, develop social skills, explore career pathways, build their professional network, and gain financial literacy skills. Employers learn how to attract, retain, and empower young workers and develop a talent pipeline for future hiring needs.
GWINFL has since implemented GradLeaders Career Center to manage student and employer relationships, program workflows, communications, job placements, evaluations, and reporting. In collaboration with their dedicated GradLeaders’ account manager, Nick, the key MYAWP team program stakeholders, Nikki, and Marla, digitalized and optimized the historically manual processes.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing MYAWP lead job coach, Marla Meredith. She selflessly gave her time and transparent insights about her role, industry, and thoughts about the future. We hope you enjoy the interview and look forward to your questions or comments.
Q: Marla – please tell us about your role and how long you have been in it.
A: I am the Lead Job Coach for MYAWP with Goodwill Industries of North Florida. I have been in the role for a year and nine months.
The MYAWP runs pretty much year-round so the work is rather cyclical. The sessions last 12 weeks in the spring and fall and students can work up to 15 hours per week during that time. In the summer, students work 6-8 weeks for up to 25 hours per week.
As the Lead Job Coach for the MYAWP, I get the opportunity to play many different roles from planning out the sessions and recruiting 65+ worksites and 300+ students annually to auditing detailed files for compliance. I have also had the chance to work on some special projects like grant writing, bringing in a new financial education curriculum, and implementing GradLeaders Career Center to streamline our processes. Primarily, I support and lead the 3 job coaches who work one-on-one with our students and businesses to provide application and onboarding assistance, guidance through the students’ work experience, payroll oversight, help with goal setting, trainings, resume writing assistance, and so much more.
Running the MYAWP is truly a group effort. None of it would not be possible without the support of funders such as the City of Jacksonville’s Kid’s Hope Alliance, Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, local businesses, and individual supporters. Once funding is laid out, Goodwill has several behind the scenes teams begin working including the leadership teams, finance, payroll, and human resources. From there we begin marketing to local businesses who step up to provide opportunities for students to work. Then parents, teachers, and community partners begin encouraging students to apply. Lastly, the amazing students commit to an opportunity to learn. I enjoy getting to unite with so many different groups of people who all share common goals around college and career readiness.
Q: Prior to your current role, within what industry/industries did you work and what were your roles?
A: Before joining Goodwill Industries of North Florida, I was in the field of international education providing students and staff with high impact learning experiences and facilitating the creation of new partnerships and agreements. Over the course of 5 years, I oversaw the recruitment, program planning, and facilitation of inbound and outbound study abroad programs. Additionally, I worked with faculty exchange, virtual exchange, and peer to peer mentoring programs.
Q: Which aspects of your current work provide the greatest satisfaction?
A: I highly enjoy receiving feedback from students and their employers. It is always wonderful to see the moment when the student recognizes their own growth, and it is especially motivating when their supervisors reiterate positive messaging about how far the student has come.
Q: What is the most misunderstood aspect of the work you do?
A: I think sometimes when employers start taking on interns, they see it only as helping the students gain experience and it is not until later that they realize how much they can learn or benefit from having younger individuals in their organizations. There is still work to be done in changing the narrative and reframing some of these opportunities.
Q: What advice would you give to readers interested in a similar role/career?
A: If someone were interested in a similar role, I would let them know that preparing people for their future is extremely rewarding and it is work that is full of hope. There are so many ways to participate in college and career readiness spaces. There are opportunities within the local and federal government, schools, and nonprofits. Even some many private companies have internship programs, apprenticeship programs, or social responsibility departments that focus on workforce development.
Q: If you had a crystal ball, how would you predict your role/industry will differ 10+ years from now?
A: The work world has already undergone drastic change post COVID. I only see those changes becoming more ingrained in our culture with work becoming more flexible and people taking better advantage of technology to make work more convenient and enjoyable for employees.
Q: What have you heard/read/experienced lately that has given you hope for your industry?
A: The whole college and career readiness arena has received a lot of attention lately locally and nationally. I think people understand the value of the work that we do and the necessity of providing programs to support our emerging workforce.
I appreciate Marla taking the time to provide us insights into her role, industry, and the critical work she and her colleagues in workforce development do assisting diverse populations overcome barriers to education, careers and financial independence.
If you are interested in workforce development, career readiness for youth or the great works of Goodwill, I encourage you to check out and refer your colleagues to the following resources.
“Goodwill Industries of North Florida is a local, not-for-profit organization that removes barriers to employment through training, education, and career opportunities for the communities we serve.”
If you are open to an interview or have recommendations for interview topics or other interviewees, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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