January 2023 – Over the past several years, the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board (WFWIB) has prioritized internships and work experiences that assist youth and young adults in identifying their career paths and gaining relevant skills. A development in enhancing these efforts came in 2018 when the WFWIB secured State/Local Internship Program (SLIP) funding for its Experience Works! PLUS program from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. This program provided postsecondary students with paid internship opportunities aligning with their educational focus. Moving forward, the WFWIB was able to sustain Experience Works! PLUS efforts through various funding sources and has supported over 110 internships for local students. Even more recently, the WFWIB has received funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to provide paid internships to 18–24-year-olds in Westmoreland County over the next two years to maximize their benefits and economic gain from postsecondary education.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania and one of the 50 largest foundations in the world. Striving to improve the competitive position of the region through economic development, economic mobility, health and well-being, conservation, organizational effectiveness, and social-impact investments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation holds a core belief in helping the people of southwestern Pennsylvania achieve greater opportunities and prosperity.

Under the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s economic mobility initiative, the WFWIB will sustain the program for current postsecondary students and expand the model to newly graduated high school students struggling to determine the value of postsecondary education. This new program model will support high school graduates, specifically those with an interest in the skilled trades or graduates of career and technology centers, in identifying if postsecondary education is the right next step for them.

“So many students in the local area graduate high school wondering what their next step should be,” described WFWIB Executive Director Janet Ward. “The WFWIB hopes to accomplish two goals with Experience Works! PLUS’ new program model. One, it seeks to display the careers current postsecondary students can achieve if they finish their education. And two, it supports newly graduated students in learning more about their interested field and how postsecondary education may, or may not, advance their careers.”

Beyond the internship experience itself, the Experience Works! PLUS program involves each participating intern in career readiness activities. Historically, activities have included essential skills development (workplace etiquette, interviewing practice, etc.), portfolio development, financial literacy, networking, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), and more. Such activities have been developed with employer and intern feedback in mind to ensure the program supports the development of skills sought by local employers.

In addition to helping young adults, the WFWIB’s Experience Works! PLUS program provides a no-cost opportunity for local businesses interested in implementing internships at their facility. Similarly, Experience Works! PLUS supports the area’s workforce by exposing young adults to career opportunities in Westmoreland County, encouraging them to remain in the area, thus filling future job needs.

The WFWIB’s Experience Works! PLUS program is open to all Westmoreland County businesses, especially those offering high-priority occupations. Students eligible to apply to the program include those currently enrolled in postsecondary education and high school students graduating this school year that are unsure of their next steps. While Experience Works! PLUS will be available to all eligible young adults, the WFWIB will prioritize participation for those from economically disadvantaged families.

The WFWIB is currently only operating Experience Works! PLUS for postsecondary students at this time and anticipates having its new program model implemented early this year. For additional information on the Experience Works! PLUS program or the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board, please contact Executive Director Janet Ward by email at jward@westfaywib.org or by phone at 724-755-2145.