Story written and published by EKCEP

Lakin Dillingham stands behind the counter at the Ugly Mug Coffee House in downtown Barbourville. She’s just filled an order for an orange smoothie and smiles amiably as she places money in the register and closes the till.

Dillingham is working at the Barbourville coffee shop while she continues her freshman year at Eastern Kentucky University. It’s her first real job, and she’s happy to have it because she knows how difficult it can be to crack the local job market, especially while doing so alone.

“When I was in high school I was needing a job really badly, but I also didn’t have any transportation,” Dillingham says, adding that searching for work without transportation was difficult.

A native of Knox County, Dillingham says she was always aware of the KCEOC Community Action Partnership, but it wasn’t until her junior year of high school that a friend enrolled in one of KCEOC’s youth employment programs and she realized that maybe the same program could help her land a job.

KCEOC provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Knox County under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). Those services include programs for adults, dislocated workers, and for in-school and out-of-school youth who may need assistance honing skills such as résumé building or networking with local employers.

“It was pretty easy,” Dillingham says about enrolling for services with KCEOC. “They all referred you to whom you needed to go to. I was given the paperwork and came back with everything filled out. I heard back within a few days.”

As a high school student at the time, Dillingham was enrolled into KCEOC’s In-School Youth Program, where she received employment assistance from Career Advisor Keith Greene, who worked to match her with local employers.

Greene says with every client he attempts to make the process as personal as possible and first understand what they need to help them be successful, whether that’s bolstering their job searching skills or interpersonal communications.

“I try to look at those things first, and then try to get to know the different employers so I can match them up as best I can,” he says.

In addition to assisting Dillingham with soft skills and résumé building, Greene also administered a career interest inventory to gauge the type of job Dillingham might be interested in most for the work experience portion of the program.

“They were going to see which jobs they could place us in, and put a priority on the one we wanted,” Dillingham says. “At the time, I was planning on going into a pharmacy program, and I ended up getting a placement.”

Greene was able to place Dillingham with a local pharmacy in Barbourville, where she would gain real-world work experience while the business would benefit from an additional employee. Through its youth program, KCEOC covered Dillingham’s wages for the duration of her work experience at the pharmacy. After working there for nearly five months, Dillingham was given an opportunity to transfer her work experience to another employer.

Greene says that when Dillingham first came to his office at the beginning of her enrollment, she seemed reserved, so he wanted to place her in a position that would challenge her to interact with other people. He thought a placement at the Ugly Mug Coffee House would allow her to gain good experience at a job site, but also in interacting with others.

Dillingham completed her work experience at the coffee shop after graduating from high school in May 2016. Having exited the youth program and ready to begin college, she would still need a job and to earn money, and was hired part-time at the Ugly Mug, where she works today while continuing her education.

Dillingham credits KCEOC and her experience in the youth program as playing an important role in her landing her first job. And her work experience also played a small role in her career choice. She has since decided not to pursue a pharmacy career, and is instead majoring in criminal justice.

“It was more of a personal decision to change,” she says. “I did find criminal justice more interesting and more for myself than what pharmacy would have been, but the program did kind of help me see what the job would have been. It did give me insight.”

KCOEC’s youth program is a positive thing for people her age, Dillingham added, because it provides professional guidance from dressing properly and workplace behavior to handling social media. It’s an experience she recommends.

“It definitely does help to give those kids some guidance. It gives them a chance,” she says.

Greene agrees, noting that all of the students he’s worked with have been able to land jobs after exiting the youth program because they’ve grown more confident in their job search and they can show that they have real work experience.

“I think it’s a big time advantage,” Greene says.