A study produced by Harvard University, Stanford’s Research Center, and the Carnegie Foundation concluded that 85% of job success comes from well-developed professional skills, otherwise known as employability skills. An interesting note on the survey– It was conducted 100 years ago. Despite the passage of a century these skills remain just as vital today as they were in 1918, and furthermore, will hold their same value for as far as time can tell. That’s why it’s as important as ever to equip all populations with these skills.

Enter the YES (Your Employability Skills) Program. A program that the Council introduced to the region in 2006 that addresses the shortfall of basic employability skills that many area employers say are lacking in many job applicants. Over the years, the program has been offered to many different populations including high school students, out-of-school youth, adult dislocated workers, Schuylkill County Drug & Alcohol/Children & Youth participants, and most recently, inmates at the Schuylkill County Prison.

Even though YES started out as an 120-hour 1 credit elective course for high school students, a workshop version was created in order to properly serve a variety of populations. This version of YES is called the YES Northeast Workshop Series. It’s broken down into 22, two hour-long workshops that cover everything from communications and interview skills to financial literacy and generational diversity. The topics mirror many of the same subjects as the in school program, but are offered in a more flexible manner that allows the Council to educate any population that’s eager to learn.

All of the subjects covered are in demand by the business community and are instructed by Council staff. Given the instructors knowledge of both the education and business communities, they can give a unique perspective on the topics that very few others can deliver, providing direct insight into the exact skills and behaviors that employers are currently seeking.

In addition to the knowledge obtained through in-class instruction, each participant has the opportunity to earn an industry-recognized credential for completing the class. For each workshop that’s completed, a certificate is awarded. This can be added to portfolios to bolster resumes and in many cases, self-esteem.

In the case of the pilot workshop series at the prison, Council staff were able to make a connection with the participating inmates and pass along valuable career information. This was due to the efforts of Courtney Fasnacht, who taught 20 of the 22 workshops. Fasnacht, the Council’s executive director, has a background in psychology and a history of working with inmates, which was essential in making the series a success.

In all, 27 total inmates participated in the series with one inmate earning a perfect attendance certificate. Due to the effectiveness of the content, multiple requests for additional consultations and counseling session were made. Individuals were also able to put their in class knowledge to use, as mock interview simulations were also conducted.

“I received nothing but positive feedback,” Warden Gene Berdanier said. “It’s obviously another piece of the puzzle we need to continue to enhance and hopefully branch out to the female population.”

If the positive trend of reduced recidivism in the state of Pennsylvania is to continue, programs like the pilot workshop series at the Schuylkill County Prison must be given a closer look. The effects go beyond just making an impact in the participant’s lives, it’s also a cost effective measure for tax payers. In the state of Pennsylvania, it costs $41,000 a year to incarcerate an offender.

According to a study conducted by the Manhattan Institute, there is a 20 percent reduction in return to crime by non-violent offenders that secured employment shortly after release. The amount of money that could potentially be saved by simply equipping inmates with the correct employability skills is immense.

The list of benefits for such a program are very long, which is why it’s caught the eye of elected officials.

“Male inmates within the Schuylkill County Prison had an opportunity to participate in the YES Northeast Workshop Series in an effort to further develop employability skills and career exploration,” said Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage. “Many county prisons have the same dilemma, as far as programming being made available to inmates. They are serving out their sentences but due to lack of funding and a viable Intermediate Placement program, they aren’t receiving any training on these essential skills needed for employment.”

“YES has an immense success rate with various populations and Courtney was able to tailor the series content to meet the needs of the population of our facility, and even provide some one-on-one coaching. The pilot program was very well received, and my hope is to see it offered to more individuals incarcerated and become an ongoing initiative. This program could act as a model for other counties within the Commonwealth facing the same issues. I urge probation programs throughout the state to consider this valuable tool and initiative.”

For more information about the YES Northeast Workshop Series, please contact the Council office at 570-622-0940.