The University of Rochester wants to help urban youths through its partnership with the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, but President Joel Seligman has another motivation for employing 105 high school students in the program: They are great employees.
For the past three years, UR has worked with HWSC to provide jobs for Rochester young people who would otherwise be at risk of dropping out of school. The Work-Scholarship Connection is a wide-ranging program for high school students, keeping them on track toward graduation while offering them employment opportunities with local partners.
For Seligman and the university, the mission of the partnership is even bigger.
Seligman is co-chairman of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, which has a goal to integrate education pathways and workforce development needs for the region.
Hillside's program works directly on one of these goals, to create a pipeline of middle-skills workers able to fill the growing number of jobs available for people with less than a four-year degree but more than a high school diploma.
There is also an economic component, said Augie Melendez, HWSC president. The students are spending their earnings within the local economy, and many are using the money to help their families.
For the university, the students have become an enthusiastic addition to the workforce, officials noted. They are willing to work on weekends and holidays, filling an important need in the university's workforce.
"We're doing this not only because of the social and economic reasons but because candidly it's in our best interests," Seligman said. "They're just great employees, like having a shot of adrenaline in our workforce."
There are 105 students in the program, working in 37 different areas, including Highland Hospital, elsewhere in the Medical Center and on the River Campus.
For UR, the students are considered the same as any other employees.
"This isn't a co-op and it isn't an internship; this is taking them on as part-time employees and providing continuing employment," said Suzanne Piotrowski, a clinical associate professor at UR and liaison between Hillside and the university.
The students in the program have had good results. All of those employed at the university have graduated from high school, and 88 percent went on to college or trade school after graduation.
The extra support for each student also ensures a lower turnover rate, university officials noted.
"The support program we have built around students is key," Piotrowski said. "We provide students and their workplace supervisor with an employment navigator, so there's communication always with them."
The university has an 88 percent retention rate with the Hillside students, and 53 percent of those who stay have been promoted. Even the majority of students who leave are successful, Piotrowski noted. Two-thirds who leave positions at UR are taking jobs elsewhere, and two-thirds of those people are promoted in their new positions.
Students in the HWSC program are certified through the Youth Employment Training Academy, where they learn skills to use on the job as well as things such as workplace etiquette.
"They come prepared to work," Piotrowski said. "They know office protocol and how to dress, to have a resume and screened references, and how to interview. They even know things like not using technology in the workplace and keeping their hair neat and pulled back if they're working in a health care setting."
The program also helps the university in its goal to diversify its workforce, Piotrowski said.
Many students in the program have gained interest in their fields of employment, Piotrowski said. The experience they have through UR helps set them apart in these increasingly competitive fields.
"Each year it's been interesting to see the students go to college and pick their fields of study, and increasingly its health care and finance," she said. "Ever since the economy tanked, there are more adults who use their severance pay to go back to school.
"They choose health care because it's a secure and stable field, so that means our students are competing for admissions with adults who have a lifetime track record."
But because of the Hillside program and their job experience through UR, the students are able to get an edge, Piotrowski said.
"This gives them hope for the future when they graduate," she added. "These are students who in two to four years will graduate and become active members who contribute to the economy rather than high school dropouts, which prognosticates things like increased money for social services and incarceration."
University officials plan to expand the program. Seligman said the number of students in the program will grow to 175 to 200 within the next five years.
Melendez said he envisions the entire HWSC program growing from roughly 2,500 students now to more than 3,000. But expanding it will mean more partnerships such as the one at UR and a major partnership with Wegmans Food Markets Inc.
UR can serve as a great ambassador as Hillside expands its program in Rochester as well as those in Syracuse and Buffalo, Melendez added. He hopes the success of the partnership and the benefits the students provide to the region's largest employer can attract new partners.
"Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection is looking to open up new opportunities for our students, and there are a lot of employers who could benefit," he said.
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