Class of students referred from local organizations all working toward the same goal; to help those underserved in Jacksonville thrive.
A group of nearly 40 students crossed the stage in a graduation ceremony April 20 at the Weaver Center for Community Outreach, all with a new set of customer service and retail management skills to take with them on their newfound career paths. Twenty-eight of those students came from Jacksonville partner organizations like Fatherhood PRIDE, The Magnolia Project, Ability Housing, Job Corps, and CareerSource Northeast Florida. These students, part of local non-profit Generation’s Retail Career Advancement program, will now join a Jacksonville alumni network of more than 450 and a global network of more than 17,000.
“Our mission here at Magnolia is to improve the health and wellbeing of women during their childbearing years by empowering communities to address medical, behavioral, cultural, and social service needs. Generation has helped in the area of social service needs by helping our participants become job-ready during and after pregnancy. Which, in turn, helps them build skills and their confidence to enter or re-enter the workforce. The continued value is they are now self-sufficient and able to support themselves and their families. We are glad to be partners with Generation because we both want to help the community and their families succeed!” said Sonya Thorpe, project director of The Magnolia Project.
Graduates in the Retail Career Advancement program complete an intensive 6-week “bootcamp-style” program that integrates technical training along with behavioral and mindset skills, which helps students prepare to overcome both workplace and personal challenges. After completing the program successfully, students often seek job interviews for management positions with employers in Jacksonville, like Jeffery Bohlscheid who’s recently accepted a job at Petro Services Inc. as a store manager. Bohlscheid was working side jobs as a house painter prior to the Generation program.
“There were more than a dozen people they interviewed for this job,” he said at the ceremony on Friday. “And what I kept hearing [from the company who interviewed him] was ‘You’re saying all the right stuff. You’re doing all the right things. And you have the right mindset.’ I wouldn’t have had all of that, without this program,” he said.
Instructors and professional mentors aim to ensure a holistic approach to empowering and uplifting individuals with social support and mentorship is available to all students throughout the course. For this class of students, in addition to instruction, Generation provided transportation assistance, assistance with groceries, individualized childcare resources, resume preparation, professional attire advice, and application preparation. Generation ensures that graduates continue to have access to support and regular follow-up contact for the first six months of their employment.
“Here at Generation, what we decide to do, is not hoard the recipes of success. We give you the ingredients for success: doing things when they’re tough; taking responsibility for our actions; prioritizing what’s most important in our life and work,” said John Downs, instructor at Generation, addressing the graduates on Friday.
“Maybe you didn’t have a dream when you started the program. Maybe it just sounded like a good idea. But I want everyone to think about a goal, and turn to your neighbor and ask the question ‘Can I do this?’ and you answer them ‘Yes you can,’” he said.
Funded by a grant from Walmart, Generation’s Retail Career Advancement program serves a population of individuals for whom the existing education-to-employment system has not worked. Programs focus on empowering individuals who have faced significant barriers in their lives and life challenges and empowers students to advance their careers in the areas of customer service and retail.
Aiming to reach 1200 total students in Jacksonville, the retail career advancement program is 60 hours total and takes place at the Weaver Center for Community Outreach in Jacksonville and includes a flexible, hybrid in-person/online program. Students engage in networking opportunities and have the opportunity to earn a nationally-recognized certificate from the National Retail Federation.
To date, more than 450 students have graduated from Generation’s two Jacksonville programs—Retail Career Advancement, and Information Technology—in the past two years. Together with a range of partners, including a coalition of 60+ local businesses, non-profits, and education providers, Generation’s classes provide Jacksonville young adults accelerated training as IT help desk technicians, customer service representatives, and retail and hospitality professionals.