Vegas PBS is providing access to a virtual career portal and job-training courses for youth in two southern Nevada juvenile correctional facilities.
MGM Resorts International is funding the workforce education pilot project with a $98,000 corporate grant. Students in both facilities will have free access to the online career coursework for one year.
“One of our primary goals is to help close some of those equity gaps that exist in the juvenile justice and local workforce system,” said Debra Solt, director of Vegas PBS’ Workforce Education. “This gives those kids an equal opportunity while they’re incarcerated to look into something that is for their future.”
If the pilot improves outcomes for students, Solt said, Nevada’s government-funded Workforce System will pay for Vegas PBS to continue covering the costs of the online courses, as it does for unemployed adults.
“Now we can offer the classes and the principal doesn’t have to say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know where I’m going to get the money,’” Solt said. “We’ve got the money. … Let’s show everybody that it works. And our workforce system said, ‘If you can show me something that works, we’ll continue to fund it.’ So that’s my goal — let’s do a project that shows real sustainability and get those kids jobs.”
By Solt’s estimate, up to 400 students will be able to at least take the Jobtimize assessment, a job-matching tool that is the starting point for youth to choose courses based on their skills and interests.
The virtual classes offered to students include six-week courses focused on soft skills like communication, conflict resolution and punctuality as well as exploratory courses for a range of occupations, such as electrician and veterinary technician.
Students who are likely to enter the workforce soon after leaving detention may be eligible for longer courses that prepare them for certification in fields like automotive tech and medical coding.
The primary content provider for the program is Cengage Learning, an educational technology company; Vegas PBS’ Workforce Education provides access to training rather than creating its own materials.
Instructors from schools inside the facilities will work with students. Because the classes are virtual, students also can continue the courses even after they leave.
“That’s the beautiful part — it’s portable, so the program doesn’t have to end because they got released,” Solt said. “The student can finish their program, and then if there is a national credential aligned to a program, once they graduate from high school and are at least 18, then they get to sit for that national exam.”
In addition to providing training, the courses can count for credits toward high school graduation, an important factor for students who may miss out on weeks or months of school while their cases are adjudicated, Solt said.
Vegas PBS’ Workforce Education launched in 2010 in response to high unemployment in the region. The department provides virtual job training and an in-person center for high-stakes testing, including professional certification exams and high school equivalency tests.
This is the station’s first initiative targeting youth in the juvenile justice system. The department began building relationships with principals at juvenile justice facilities six years ago, when Solt worked with security at the facilities to improve experiences for youth coming into the testing center.
“They would bring them into our facility shackled,” Solt said. “I wanted them to be treated as if they’re any other tester in there. … [Now] they at least unshackle them in the parking lot so no one can see, and they walk in like anybody else.”