Internship program aims to improve area’s workforce
BULLHEAD CITY — Dr. Waheed Zehri has heard the concerns of local employers who can’t hire or keep qualified, highly trained workers.
He has decided to attack the problem on the front end — Zehri last year started Tri-State Youth Internship and Leadership.
As the name suggests, it’s not just a summer jobs program. Zehri told a group assembled at a recent presentation on Tri-State Youth Internship and Leadership that the idea is to develop local youth into the types of workers local employers need and the kind of leaders the community will need.
He said that he specifically wants to see people from the Bullhead City area in Phoenix and Washington as elected officials. The process of building those leaders, Zehri said, starts with parents and also includes schools and employers.
“What we do has a far greater impact than what we say,” he said, urging those in attendance to help with the mission of placing students in six-week positions that will start June 1.
The positions, he said, should be not just entry-level paid work, but should also serve as first steps toward key jobs and leadership roles.
Zehri said he’d like to see the youth work anywhere they choose, and the internships contain “work-based learning.”
The meeting was attended by representatives of business, government and schools.
Gina Covert, vice president of Tri-State Youth Internship and Leadership, talked about the perception that people from the area have to accept mediocrity as their lot in life.
She said she’s had five children go through local schools and graduate from college.
“They’re doing great things in their communities,” Covert said.
Covert is also career and technical education director for the Colorado River Union High School District. She talked about the programs offered at River Valley and Mohave high schools, and wished to counter a statement she heard made by a TV commentator that “vocational education is dead.”
“We don’t have wood shop,” Covert said. “We have carpentry and construction trades.”
She said the program’s focus is preparing students for the jobs of the future. She said that CTE teachers are certified in their fields, just as math and English teachers are. But, she said, they typically bring industry experience with them into the classroom.
Covert said the goal is to split CTE students’ time 50-50 between classroom and shop (lab) sessions.
The programs, she said, have equipment that replicates real-world work environments, meaning that they can graduate with any of a variety of industry certifications.
“The kids will leave high school with the skills employers want,” Covert said.
She also related the story of a Midwestern company that faced the retirement of a key employee and discovered that no one was in training to replace him. The company responded by starting an internship program that brought young people into entry-level positions, but provided transferable job skills for future advancement.
Board member Carolyn Hamblin said that for the internships to be effective, employers should slot them to develop the participants’ skills to match where they would be most needed.
“Let’s create in (local students) the qualities you need to build an organization, to build an economy and to build our community,” Hamblin said. “This market is ripe for an internship program.”
Covert said she would like to see the internships not only prepare youth for the work itself, but also help develop their life skills.
Board member Emily Stevens likened the group’s goal to preparing the soil before planting seeds.
Another board member, Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady said that if successful, the internship program “can help keep our youngsters here in our town to help us grow and prosper.”
“We’re all gonna have to get on board and do it,” he said. “Then we’ll actually see the success that comes with it.”
Zehri said later that he started the organization to have a positive impact on the community and a platform that would accommodate the growth of local youth.
He said that his goal is to place as many in internships as possible. A of last week, a variety of employers had already committed to filling 30 internships.
Those on board include Mid Valley Auto Center, Silver Creek Medical Associates, Royalty Homes LLC and Labriola Masonry.
Zehri said that several more committed after the meeting. The program is still accepting employers that want to participate.
The program is for youth aged 16 to 25. Applications are available at the counselor’s offices of local high schools or at Mohave Community College. The application period is April 1-15, and accepted interns will attend orientation May 4. The interships are June 1 through July 15, for four hours a day.
More information is available from Zehri at 928-234-3422.