Pilot program aims to match students with businesses for internships

Southold is putting together a pilot program to match students with businesses looking for interns, town officials said at Tuesday’s work session.  

The program is meant to both fulfill a need for trained staff at local businesses and help match students with potential career paths. 

“The businesses are crying for help,” said Denis Noncarrow, the government liaison officer. “We hear from a lot of parents and students, basically, to try to organize a better system of getting available jobs to the kids, getting them to learn and train.” 

It has not been determined yet whether interns will be paid. Mr. Noncarrow said it would depend on the career path and what skills they’re learning. 

“I visualize it as possibly getting paid a couple of hours a week but possibly when he’s out of school and goes full time, maybe three months internship unpaid,” he explained at the meeting.  

Youth Bureau director Lynn Nyilas said they’ve also contemplated setting up the program so that maybe the first 50 hours are unpaid before opening discussions about wages. Schools could offer credit as well.   

“We’re looking at students that might not necessarily need a college degree for whatever area of employment they’re looking for,” Ms. Nyilas said. “These are maybe the nontraditional kids that are not necessarily looking to go on to college, but are looking for some sort of training, whether it’s farming [or] shell fishing.” 

Nicole Helf, the certified career services provider in the Southold School District, said that although schools on the East End have “wonderful BOCES programs,” the district is limited as to where they can send their students. Greenport only uses Riverhead BOCES, and Southold and Mattituck only use Riverhead and Bellport BOCES.  

“Islip is the heaven of BOCES, but mile-wise, districts are not able to send that far,” she said. “There are a lot of students, more and more every year, who are exiting and staying here, which is wonderful but they’re not properly trained, they’re not given the opportunity to be ready to enter the workforce.” 

She pointed out that there are businesses in the community that are willing to dedicate time to train students. The Department of Labor allows 54 hours of work-based learning, she said. “The hope is that at the end of that training period … they’ve been hired.” 

Ms. Helf said the program is not making promises to businesses and it’s understandable if they can’t commit to the program. She emphasized that it’s geared toward education. 

“With an internship program, especially if we’re looking at school credit, there needs to be an educational component to that,” she said. “So it can’t just be baptism by fire, and I get that’s very good in some situations, but there has to be that learning component to it.” 

The hope is that students will explore fields they’re interested in and learn “21st century soft skills” needed in a professional work environment, such as arriving on time, problem-solving skills, communication, collaboration, creativity and flexibility, among others.  

The pilot program is expected to start in the fall and run for two years. It will be minimal at first, with only a few students from each district. The objective, Ms. Helf said, is to prepare students looking to enter a trade in the post-secondary world and provide businesses with trained employees.  

Students would be aligned for interviews with businesses that fit their career interests, where they could come to a work agreement. The program organizers also hope to match students with a mentor outside of the workplace, such as — perhaps — people from Peconic Landing or the Economic Development Committee. 

Mr. Noncarrow said right now, the team plans to pitch to schools for their help and then show the business community how the program will work. 

“There are more details to work out as we go along but the general details are in place,” he added.

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