A local nonprofit is training young Vermonters to fill a labor shortage in some sectors of the state’s economy. But the program is struggling with the very problem it’s trying to fix.
ReSOURCE is probably best known for the second-hand stores it runs in Burlington, Hyde Park and Barre. An essential component of those stores is the job and life-skills they teach volunteer trainees.
Here’s how it works: People donate household goods and building supplies to ReSOURCE, keeping unwanted items out of the landfill. ReSOURCE sells those goods at affordable prices. And the young job trainees who staff the stores learn customer service and other retail and business skills.
"People really enjoy and have fun with the shopping experience and the reuse experience," says Tom Longstreth, executive director of ReSOURCE. "They know that they can go shopping and they can do something positive for the environment and for the community – they can support our job training programs in the process."
Sequoia Hawkins, who lives in Eden, is a trainee at the ReSOURCE store in Hyde Park. He says the program is working for him.
"Before I started working here, I wouldn’t have been able to so much as figure out how to dress myself for an informational interview," says Hawkins. "Since I’ve been here I have learned quite a bit. And while my skills may be focused, and seemingly minuscule to some others, I find that I wouldn’t even have the confidence to get up in the morning and come work, if it wasn’t for the people at ReSOURCE."
Longstreth says the skills Hawkins is learning will make him employable, no matter what job he chooses to pursue.
"Show up on time. Have a good attitude. Work well with others. You know, play nice in the sandbox," he says. "Those are the skills we teach and our trainees sort of get it and they move on. And I think the employers we place trainees with are very happy with the workers they’re getting."
Those same skills are taught in all of ReSOURCE’s job training programs, from appliance repair to manufacturing and to construction trades. The programs ready young adults and high school students to enter fields where there are currently more jobs than workers.
"They really need skilled workers," Longstreth says of the trades. "There’s middle-skilled jobs that pay well. Many of them don’t require college. And that’s really what we’re trying to do, is prepare young people to enter careers that have good pay, where there’s strong demand. And we’re having a lot of success with it."
Case-in-point is ReSOURCE’s YouthBuild program, which works with high school dropouts, helping participants both get a diploma and train for a job in the construction trades.
YouthBuild’s success helped ReSOURCE secure $70,000 from the Vermont Department of Labor to run construction training programs this summer in Burlington, Barre, Hyde Park, St. Albans, Middlebury, and Brattleboro. But Longstreth says there’s such a shortage of construction workers in Vermont, he can’t find anyone to run the training programs.
"It’s sort of an irony that, just because of this challenge with construction companies trying to fill these jobs, we’re experiencing the same problem," he says. "Even though, if we’re successful, this will create a new stream, new pipeline, for workers to enter the industry."
Once ReSOURCE finds the instructors it needs to get the summer programs off the ground, Longstreth says they'll be training on-the-job.
"And in the process what we’re going to do is build affordable housing," he explains. "We’re going to weatherize homes. We’re going to install solar panels. We’re going to do other public-service construction work that benefits the community and helps our instructors teach these skills."
And Longstreth says it will all happen in the process of achieving ReSOURCE’s primary mission.
"We need our young people to be getting good jobs where they get paid well and can support their families," says Longstreth. "So, that’s really the goal."