Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson — The cooperative work experience program is an integral part of the 22-week Alaska Military Youth Academy Challenge Program. The program provides cadets the opportunity to learn job skills, earn different job certifications and increase their chances of becoming employed upon graduation from AMYA.
“The Goal of the cadet to work program is to give our students a leg up on becoming employed once they leave and graduate our program,” said Deborah Morton, Recruiting, Placement, Mentoring Supervisor for AMYA. “They will leave here with transferable skills and some type of certification from the program they choose. They can take that to any employer and say, ‘here you go.’”
Coming out of Covid, AMYA saw a lot of cadets who didn’t have the soft skills they should have learned during their freshman year, specifically time management and organizational skills.
Morton said when cadets enter AMYA, they are often in survival mode. They come in for credit recovery, to get their GED or to learn personal discipline. A lot of them have been told they will never amount to anything.
“The best piece is when you watch them realize that they can do more than they have ever been told,” said Morton. They start blossoming. That’s the biggest for me. It’s amazing to watch them.”
Through many iterations of CWE’s partnership with community organizations, the concept has more than validated itself. Morton said AMYA cadets get the training, learn the skills, and then are prepared to start working immediately after graduation. The jobs, she said, often come with benefits, additional job training opportunities and good pay.
“If we know that they have those skills, we can reach out to our community partners and organizations and say hey you have openings, and I have a kid I am going to send for an interview,” said Morton. “We have tremendous support in the community.”
Alaska Military Youth cadets watch as Jason Fernandes with Local 367 plumbers and steamfitters helps Cadet Hancox use the hand torch while learning to solder a piece of copper pipe June 01, 2023, at Alaska Works Partnership in Anchorage. (Alaska National Guard photo by Robert DeBerry)
Jason Fernandes with Local 367 plumbers and steamfitters said when interviewing potential people for apprenticeships having a background with AMYA carries some weight. He says when a cadet goes through the AMYA program there is a certain level of skills and commitment that is expected.
Fernandes also said that the CWE program is important for setting cadets up for employment and training early on in their lives, especially when college might not be an option.
“College seems to be the one everybody pushes, but I know that not everybody is college bound,” he said. “Apprenticeships and being in a trade gets them working, out on a job, learning and getting paid at the same time.”
Alaska Military Youth Academy cadet Louis Savaiinaaea prepares a piece of copper pipe for soldering during a Career Work Experience program class at Alaska Works Partnership in Anchorage June 01, 2023. (Alaska National Guard photo by Robert DeBerry)
Currently the CWE program is working with Alaska Safety Alliance, Northern Industrial Training and Alaska Works Partnership.
AMYA looks closely at the industry trends when deciding what the CWE program will look like. In the past, in demand positions within the work force such as computer technology, coffee barista, lifeguard, and EMT training were offered.
“Those were the big things back in the 2005-to-2010-time frame,” said Morton. “Since then, it has become more construction trades. So, that is where our focus is.”
According to Morton, cadets are now learning scaffolding construction, building maintenance, culinary arts, supply logistics and flagging. Morton said every cadet will leave with a flagging certification.
Alaska Works instructor Derek Homme said having cadets go through the Alaska Works program gives them the opportunity to “test drive” apprenticeships in the way they would never get to do normally.
“The beautiful part about this program,” Homme said, “is if you take one of our courses and you hate it, great then you know what you don’t want to do.”
For a lot of the cadets, the CWE program is the first time they’ve had the opportunity to talk to a professional tradesman. Having that expertise in front of them gives them an inside edge when learning about the different career paths.
Alaska Military Youth Academy cadets Lemont Davis, left, and Tyrell Emerson work together to assemble sections of copper pipe during a Career Work Experience program class at Alaska Works Partnership in Anchorage June 01, 2023. (Alaska National Guard photo by Robert DeBerry)
AMYA cadet Andrew Murray is working his way through the CWE program, and he can see firsthand how important the program is to success outside of AMYA.
“As work experience, I think this is pretty vital in both the construction and culinary programs,” Murray said. “There are so many aspects that we didn’t ever know existed.
You come in with little or no knowledge and when we leave, we have a step up in a trade which is going to get us jobs faster than some people that don’t have any experience.”
Cadets William Erickson and Bobby Dugaqua are in the culinary arts program, and both see this as an opportunity for a future career.
Erickson said he chose the culinary program for a couple reasons. He wants to help more at home for his mom and cook for his family, but more importantly, he sees this as a jumpstart on a career and a way to help pay for higher education.
“I feel this could bring job opportunities, bring a lot of interest, and make a good income in the future which could bring more opportunities to succeed in life,” said Erickson in between checking bread and preparing to make bacon wrapped ribeye kabobs.
Alaska Military Youth Academy cadet William Erickson sticks a skewer through bacon wrapped ribeye during the Career Work Experience program culinary arts class June 01, 2023, at Camp Carroll on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Alaska National Guard photo by Robert DeBerry)
Erickson said he has been interested in culinary arts for long time but that was not the only reason he jumped at the opportunity to learn more.
“I love seeing how things are made, I love food and I love eating,” he said. “So, I wanted to learn to make the food.”
Eighteen-year-old Dugaqua said he plans to use his CWE training to pursue a career in restaurants with his family.
“I loved making food back home and me and my nanna want to start our own restaurant or maybe a food truck,” he said. “She wants to do baking and I want to do cooking.”
Dugaqua agrees on the importance of the program and the different training and knowledge it brings to the cadets. He said he feels a lot of the cadets just didn’t have an opportunity to learn about culinary or construction outside AMYA.
“I am definitely more excited,” he said.
Alaska Military Youth Academy cadet Olynna Johnson chops jalapeños during the Career Work Experience program culinary arts class June 01, 2023, at Camp Carroll on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Alaska National Guard photo by Robert DeBerry)
Once a cadet has graduated and returned home, AMYA mentors work with them for 24 months to ensure they are being successful in their communities.
“We follow them after they leave here. We contact them every month to make sure they are doing a minimum of 25 hours a week working, volunteering, going to school, studying for college, or studying to get their GED. We see that they are doing something productive,” said Morton.
Cadets earn the opportunity to be a part of the CWE program. They must maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher and not have any behavior issues.
“Getting them motivated and getting them to understand that grades are important can be a challenge. If you are sitting here slacking off, I am not going to give you the reward that somebody else has earned,” said Morton.
“We have so many people that want to work with our kids because they know the quality of the kids. They know the behaviors of the kids. They know the skills we teach them here,” she said. “We try to figure out what will suit them best. We want to give them something to get their foot in the door to start supporting whatever their other goals are.”