Workforce Development offers students opportunity and growth

Home E 50th Anniversary E Workforce Development offers students opportunity and growth
Article Author: Martha Maloney
Publication Name: Collaborative for Educational Services
Article Date: June 26, 2024
Article URL:

The first School to Work program was offered by the Hampshire Educational Collaborative (HEC) in 1974, after being requested by area educators. This offering provided vocational instruction for high school students. Over the years, as local manufacturing disappeared, structured programs like the Hampshire County School-to-Career Partnerships became an important way to support workplace readiness for graduating students. We provided structured School-to-Career services that included integrating academic, vocational, and technical components and opportunities for career skills training, work placement, and coaching and support. The work grew each year, and in 2003, over 450 area students found internships, shadowed professionals at work, and attended career days across Hampshire County. 

Forging partnerships across the state has been core to success in this work, and as a Communities and Schools for Career Success (CS2) entrepreneur, CES’ Matt Rigney partnered with the Commonwealth Corporation, Northampton Public Schools, and the Chamber of Commerce in the early 2000s to design a school-to-work and internship program for Northampton middle and high school students. Part of Rigney’s work involved finding alternative sources of funding to support the innovative program. Today, finding the right funding for School-to-Career partnership programs for students continues to be a challenge for the work, but the development of employer partners that can offer training and internships to high school students continues to fuel the program’s success.  

Now CES continues to bring together school districts with community organizations to enable them to access funding that supports school to career opportunities for students. In the 2022-2023 school year alone, the CES Workforce Development program provided over 600 students with coaching, internships and support, while engaging local employers in the work. As Program Director Matt Rigney focuses on creating opportunities for high school students to advance their career skills and be ready for work or college.

Rigney connects students to internships and employment opportunities to boost their career options. In 2020, when schools and school to work programs shut down due to lockdown, the program continued to find ways to support students by developing a series of mini online workshops for students, focusing on skills such as resume writing, cover letter writing, and interview skills, so that students unable to participate in school to work programs, would still be able to build career skills.

The cornerstone of the current work is the STEM Paid Internship program, which provides Hampshire and Hampden county high school students with paid internships in STEM settings (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The projected demand for STEM careers in the Pioneer Valley promises to be strong in fields ranging from IT and computer science to engineering and medical technology. These internships offer high school students an exceptional opportunity to gain valuable experience and connections in STEM fields and be paid for it. Since its inception in 2018, the STEM Paid Internship program has served over 200 students who, collectively, have worked more than 26,000 hours of internship time, and earned more than $330,000.

At a time when educators and employers across the Commonwealth are focusing on creative ways to ensure that students are prepared for the realities of the workplace, the future looks bright for the STEM Paid Internship program at CES. Says Rigney, 

“I thought selling this to employers would be a lot more difficult, but now that it’s in place, I am overwhelmed by how well it has gone. Students are receiving truly valuable experience in these positions.”

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