Youth currently in school have access to an increasing number of resources designed to assist in breaking down barriers and obstacles they may face, but the Region 2 Southwestern Workforce Investment Board’s Out-of-School Youth Program is making a push to help those who are no longer students find employment and a long-term career path.

The Region 2 WIB serves youth in-house at its Huntington location and is responsible for seven counties — Boone, Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, Putnam and Wayne — with representatives from each area.

The program accepts youth ages 18-24 who are no longer in school. After completing applications and becoming eligible for the program, staff at the Region 2 WIB create a custom plan for the individual to help them progress in their goals.

“We’re attempting to get 18- to 24-year-olds involved in the idea of working,” Executive Director Claude J. Hunt said. “The push to get into the workforce is not like it used to be, and you don’t have the pressure on you that you once did in the day-to-day opportunity.”

Hunt said the focus of the program since day one has been structure and flexibility, and Melissa Bias, program director, said the ultimate goal is to provide youth with a newfound confidence to begin pursuing a career path, whatever that may be.

OSY offers many resources to those who qualify, including work readiness training, educational attainment facilitation, mentoring and tutoring, career support and employment opportunities, Bias said.

“Typically, many of our youth do not have a high school diploma, so that might be one of the things we focus on,” Bias said. “They will actually add additional skills to their resume, for example, to help them get out there we’ll help them get their food handler’s license, it’s a certification that employers will love.”

Bias said Region 2 WIB will also assist in helping youth obtain a driver’s license, a bus pass, proper interview or work clothing, or reimburse them for travel expenses if they are participating in certain trainings.

For those who dream of going to college but are not sure where to begin, Bias said the program works to help future students become comfortable with a higher education setting before ever stepping foot on campus.

“It’s not about the going to college, it’s that uncomfortable feeling of going on a campus,” Bias said.

The Region 2 WIB has locations on both Southern West Virginia Community College and Mountwest Community and Technical College’s campuses, which allows youth to experience school first-hand before making a long-term decision.

The OSY program also provides a cost-free EZ-Start “College 101” course to familiarize them with resources on campus and beyond, while giving them real college credit.

Youth can leave the OSY program with up to nine earned credit hours, Bias said.

Those interested in the program or the application process can find more information at www.wvregion2.org/community-workforce-partners/youth-resources.

Follow reporter Hanna Pennington via Twitter @hpennHD.