Hickory Hill

Program pays at-risk teens and young adults to find and follow career goals

Teens and young adults are often in need of work experience, a steady job, or help deciding their next steps towards education and a long-term career path. For those who experience personal or family hardships and instabilities, achieving their dreams or even basic economic health and stability can be daunting and often out of reach.

Locally, the Career Advantage Youth Program Memphis hopes to be a guiding hand for the city’s at-risk and underserved young people and communities.

Career Advantage works with Memphis area residents between the ages of 16 to 24 to outline their own vision for future employment and connect to resources to manifest those goals.

“... usually they are the guides of their own ships, and we are just here to copilot and assist where we can,” said Career Advantage’s project director, Tameka D. Greer.

The program serves anyone meeting the age qualifications but targets people experiencing big barriers to future success.

Flyers and other recruiting efforts call specifically to those in or aging out of foster care, experiencing homelessness, and those with arrests or criminal records or whose family have involved with the justice system. They seek out young people who are pregnant or parenting, living with disabilities, or have dropped out of high school.

There's no judgement of the situation, just support. 

Many of Career Advantage’s clients are ‘opportunity youth’ or people ages 16 to 24 who are both out of school and unemployed.

According to Stand for Children, Memphis has the highest percentage of opportunity youth among the United State's largest metropolitan areas. There are an estimated 30,000 local opportunity youth. The city's poverty rate and lack of access to stellar education and starter jobs in its disinvested neighborhoods are the biggest barriers for opportunity youth.

The Career Advantage program offers connections to education and training, an in-house employment readiness program, placements for work experience, and other individualized supports. 

The most basic goal for all clients is sustainable, full-time employment that pays $15 an hour or more. The program's staff will continue to work with clients beyond their 24th birthday to ensure they get there. 

Jayah Williams is currently enrolled in the Career Advantage program.

“I joined the program to have help on continuing my education but to also have a steady job. The program has helped me get into G.E.D. [classes] and referred me to many jobs,” said Williams.

Tameka D. Greer, project director for the Career Advantage Youth Program, assists a young person in an online job hunt. The program works with people ages 16 to 24 to identify and manifest their professional goals. (Felicia Christian)

From Classroom to Workforce

Career Advantage offers six-week employment-readiness courses at up to 28 hours a week with the possibility of adding additional courses. Clients are paid for their time spent in class and placed with a local employer to begin building work experience.

The program’s outreach specialists recruit the local businesses, who get motivated staff members in exchange for their participation and do not have to pay their salaries. The program covers hours worked.

The hope is that Career Advantage clients will do well enough that employers will ask them to stay on after completing their the program. If the business can’t or doesn't want to make a permanent employment offer, the Career Advantage staff continue to work with their clients to find a new employer or training opportunities to keep them moving towards their goals.

“They do a great job of placing young people into permanent work positions [with at least] $15 an hour,” said Greer.

The employment partners include restaurants, beauty salons, customer service centers, nonprofits, and more. One of the most unique partners is Wrap98 radio station, which provides experience for those interested in broadcasting.

“[The young people] not only get work experience but they also get some intensive guidance while on those jobs,” said Greer of all their local business partners.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Memphis' Career Advantage program is facilitated by its three local Tennessee American Job Centers in Binghampton, Hickory Hill, and the Midtown-Evergreen area.

The Hickory Hill site, located at 4240 Hickory Hill Road, has been in operation for over a decade.

“The need is there. The population is most definitely there that we're trying to serve,” said Greer.

There are around 3,000 government-funded American Job Center locations across the country. They are free to access and offer connections to employers and education, personal resources, professional development for youth, adults, businesses, and veterans regardless of age. 

“We try to create a one-stop environment,” said Greer. “Whether you come in looking for a job or you need SNAP benefits or [are an] unemployed veteran that needs assistance.”

Greer said most of their work is based in helping people recognize their desires and potential.

“We [believe] people have all that they need to be successful within them,” she said. “We are here to help them identify tools that they may not have recognized that they carry within or supports to assist them in enhancing the best of themselves to be better.”

The Career Advantage Youth Program is funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which is a federal act overseeing nationwide workforce development. The local job centers receive WIOA funding to facilitate the Career Advantage program through a contract with the Workforce Investment Network.

WIN is a hub for employment resources available to the public through its online portal and network of partners. It serves Shelby, Fayette, Lauderdale, and Tipton counties by bringing local, state, and federal agencies, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations into a cohesive web of employment support.

WIN also helps operate and administer programs and services mandated by the WIOA across its service area, like the like Career Advantage program.
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Read more articles by A. J. Dugger III.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit ajdugger.net. (Photo by April Stilwell)