“Things worth having are earned, not given,” Michigan State Director Michael Gillum said about a relatively new component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP).
Gillum explained how he is fortunate to lead the military–modeled program where at-risk teens focus on personal growth, leadership, and followership, while also now gaining the tools needed to assist them in their next phase of life.
Job Challenge (JC) is an optional five-month residential program for graduates to earn job skills, credentials, certifications, or apprenticeships as they begin post-graduation planning.
“The inception of JC began as a collaboration by the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor to create a trade skill, residential program for graduates of NGYCP,” Gillum said. “Associates — the title given to students enrolled in JC — strive to continue individual growth begun at NGYCP by strengthening their knowledge in a chosen pathway … They begin to understand and harness their potential in preparation for adulthood so they can become productive members of society.”
One of the first states implementing JC, along with South Carolina and Georgia, Michigan Youth Challenge Academy began its first class in 2016. Now, Michigan conducts two classes per year, in January and August.
“Start dates coincide with the beginning of Kellogg Community College semesters and their Regional Manufacturing Training Center — our educational partner for this program,” Gillum explained.
In addition, each class has 60 slots for graduates, with 50 available for the most recent graduates and remainder available for competitive post-graduates, he says. Other than this, the only criteria are graduates must be at least 17 years old and no older than 20 at the start of classes.
Gillum also detailed how the residential program is self paced, allowing associates to complete certifications in as little as 15 weeks. After this, if associates complete their certifications or pathway, and have already earned their high school diploma or GED, they become eligible to decentralize and return home to search for jobs or begin working, he adds.
Specific job skills available during this 5th phase of NGYCP include resume writing, interview skills, training on diversity in the workplace and substance abuse, as well as financial literacy.
In addition, certifications they can work toward are: Gas Metal Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, FANUC Robotics Programming, Forklift safety, OSHA-10 (Occupational Safety Health Administration training), National Career Readiness Certification, Manufacturing Skills Standard Council (Manufacturing certification), CPR, Certified Nursing Assistant, and Food Handlers Safety.
And in terms of internships, Gillum says, “We help associates achieve apprenticeships throughout the state in conjunction with Kellogg Community College, and our placement coordinator works with local unions.”
Gillum went on to describe living conditions for students at Fort Custer Training Center in Augusta, Michigan.
“Associates have individual billeting and share a bathroom with a same gender suitemate, [with] each billet having a bed, TV, private sink/vanity and mini refrigerator. … The fort’s dining facility also provides healthy meal choices.”
In addition, in this phase, students can earn more freedoms, such as the use of cell phones and electronics.
On the other hand, “privileges may be revoked due to poor behavior, performance, or effort on school assignments, certifications, or trade pathways,” Gillum explains.
Normally, associates can leave the fort to participate in supplementary educational and social activities, such as community projects, weekend passes to go home, doctor appointments, as well as job interviews.
Despite the dampening impact of the pandemic, Gillum reiterated the importance of “not giving up on youth who are struggling.”
“These youth tend to lack boundaries and structure in their home environments leading to poor choices, relationships, and outcomes. [But], we have seen time and again … when these same youth participate in programs providing essential tools, positive staff, and safe environments, they are able to adapt, focus, and make tremendous personal strides and grow professionally.”
I have worked with at-risk youth my entire adult life and not seen a better program. NGYCP can truly change the lives of the youth we serve,” Gillum said.