Story written and published by EKCEP
Clayton Owens, of Knox County, knew that he wanted to do more than just schoolwork during his senior year of high school in 2015.
“I was just about to be a senior in high school. I was unemployed, and I figured it was time to get a job,” Owens says as he swivels in a chair at the KCEOC Community Action Program office in Barbourville. While he had the drive to do more than homework, Owens faced a big obstacle. His lack of experience in the job market, along with his age, left him with few options for employment in his hometown.
“I didn’t want to go into fast food or retail or something you’d see everyday teenagers doing,” he explains. “I’ve had buddies in those industries, and generally they have a quick turn out rate—they don’t last more than three months. I was looking for something that would last longer than just three months.”
The summer before starting his senior year, Owens says he’d heard a little about a program at his high school offered through KCEOC that allowed students like himself gain work experience through local employers. Once he returned to school that fall, he made sure to make a beeline for the counselor’s office to apply.
KCEOC provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Knox County under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). Those services include programs for adults, dislocated workers, and for in-school and out-of-school youth who may need assistance honing skills such as résumé building or networking with local employers.
“I applied and heard back within about a week. By October, I went through a little training seminar and I got my first interview with a client,” Owens says, smiling.
Owens and the other participants in the program were taught soft skills, like how to greet a customer and how to conduct themselves during an interview, as well as hard skills like résumé building.
That first interview ended up landing Owens a work experience position with Phillips and Phillips CPA (Certified Public Accountant) in Barbourville.
“It’s a local, small, small business. There’s three people that work there. It’s right across the street, I could walk to it right now,” he says, pointing through the front window.
“I never saw myself working for an accountant, I’ve always been horrible with math, so it’s kind of ironic,” he adds. “Once I got there, I found there was a lot more than just math, there’s a lot more that goes on in small businesses than what you may just assume.”
KCEOC was able to pay for Owens’ salary for the duration of his 10-month work experience, something he says made it possible for a local small business to be able to participate in the program.
“It’s not out of pocket to the employer, so they’re a little more likely to take on an internship,” he says.
A few months into the program, Owens says he took a part-time job at a local restaurant to further supplement his savings as he was preparing for college. He adds that having already applied for and started his first job made getting a second job a little easier on him.
“I just walked right into it. It was an easy transition for me,” he says.
After graduating from high school in May 2016, Owens explains that his term in the work experience program was over. Now, he still works part-time at the local restaurant but is also a full-time student at the Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) regional campus in Corbin. He says he knows the value of what he was able to learn during his work experience is something he couldn’t have gotten without the help of KCEOC.
“It helped me a lot. It’s a really good program,” he says, so good, in fact, that he’s recommended it to a number of his friends.
“I’ve sent a few this way. I even told my boss as I was walking out the door, ‘Take on another intern, man. It changes people.’ And it does,” he says, smiling.