HQ Ready for Anything
By: Amy Hinman
In the conference room at HQ, an R+B playlist pumps through the speakers, vibrations making the cups of Hawaiian punch jiggle slightly. There are bowls of chips on the tables, which are arranged like a classroom, as well as printed materials, binders, and pens. Youth trickle into the space, and greet each other with high fives and hugs. This is not a normal classroom, class, or group of students. This is HQ Ready.
In the beginning, we helped youth out as they needed it. But over time, we noticed that youth who had résumés weren’t necessarily getting interviews, or youth that got jobs would lose them shortly thereafter. Our wheels began to turn. And a solution was born like grass from a crack in the sidewalk; between the résumés and job trainings was a gap that left youth unequipped with soft, on-the-job skills. What to do when childcare falls through, how to follow up after applying for a job, how to thank an employer for an interview, how to advocate for oneself in the workplace, how to maintain a professional presence online– these are all things that seem simple when you’ve had someone teach you how to do them. But for many HQ youth, they haven’t had that kind of a model in their lives before. And for HQ youth, that model could be us.
HQ Ready is an employment skills class for youth that not only speaks their language, but empowers them to use their unique voices and skills to make their employment dreams come true. Through support from Herman Miller Cares, we launched the official HQ Ready program in August of 2016, and started our second pilot cohort this fall, with six youth participants.
Classes are small and intimate. HQ staff Samuel leads discussion on the topic of the day which covers everything from social media, to interview etiquette, to budgeting, code switching and the impact of race in the employment world. They conduct mock interviews and bring in a therapist to talk about caring for their mental health in the workplace.
These relaxed class gatherings are unusual. They feel like a group of friends who’ve asked their favorite teacher to tell them even more about chemistry after school hours. But that’s exactly why they are effective: Classes speak to youth directly. They incorporate drop-in culture because youths’ needs don’t take a break for class. So we don’t mind if youth grab a bowl of cereal before things get going. We don’t mind if youth shower or do laundry during their 15 minute break. Because what’s important is that youth are here. Youth are learning. Youth are actively propelling themselves to a better place.
With one class cohort graduated, there are already success stories, victories of every proportion, color and flavor. Youth are more confident. They feel closer to staff, more ownership over their experience at HQ. Of the four youth that graduated from the first class, one student has two jobs, one is now seeking a second, another is enrolled in college in Kalamazoo, and the fourth is enrolled in a GED prep class. Pride illuminates Samuel’s face when he talks about his students and how far they come. The care here is deep and abiding.
We spoke with the youth enrolled in college about his experience in HQ Ready; he credits Samuel with not only teaching him practical skills, but acting as a counselor and a role model as well. It’s the kind of praise that melts you a little. It’s the kind of praise that reminds you to keep growing, that everything–the music, the one-on-one attention, the time together– is worth it.
On Fridays before class starts, Samuel spends an hour getting ready. He makes sure the space is tidy, and free of distractions. He organizes the materials, selects a playlist, and stations himself by the door to let youth in when they arrive. And when they do come, he greets them by name with a wide smile, and more often than not, a handshake. The confidence here is palpable. The people here are ready.