Teens Lead @ Work
The Exit Interview
The traditional exit interview represents an amicable parting of ways, a “here’s one for the road” moment before takeoff. For the employer, it sheds light on previously ensconced areas of the employee’s experience. And given the freedom that comes with departure—and the knowledge that this final courtesy is just that—it is often the most frank an employee may be: the candor, a necessary element in any forward-moving plans.
For MCOSH (Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health), the exit interview embodies just one of the many connection points it seeks throughout a training leader’s tenure. From day one to year ten—and beyond!—youth trainers, and later, as adult graduates, have an opportunity to shape the very organization that’s helping to shape their own lives and careers. In turn, MCOSH offers graduates a launching pad for their future, a sort of safe space while they navigate their studies, careers, and personal commitments to community. And so this cycle continued one balmy summer day when Tom Joyce, the chairperson for Midstate Education and Service Foundation and outgoing program director at MCOSH, and the incoming co-director, Hannah Lloyd, sat down with Sophia Bosworth Viscuso and Ishan Aldridge.
Sophia began her career with MCOSH as a peer leader in its youth program, Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W). It was 2018, and she was a sophomore at an innovative charter high school in Ithaca, NY, called New Roots. And she was ready for a challenge.
And a challenge it was, and continued to be throughout that first year. She persevered, however, and emerged as a spirited, highly skilled trainer, exercising her knowledge of health and safety to lead numerous workshops as a TL@W peer leader.
Only weeks away from the start of her career at Rochester, New York’s Nazareth College, she informed Tom that she would be resigning her duties as peer leader to begin her studies in sociology. And, in the bittersweet news Tom found an opportunity to both birth and refine the latest iteration of MCOSH’s departure process. His protégé was glad to oblige.
So, on the eve of her departure, Sophia chatted candidly about her novice experience.
“This was an unusual first job,” Sophia admitted. Unlike retail or babysitting—she had her share of the latter—her job at MCOSH, she expressed, felt like training ground for those jobs and future ones. It gave her foundational knowledge for a host of fields and job titles.
That is not to say, however, that she felt wholly connected to the training she was tasked to lead.
“The social justice aspect was lacking,” she said. She was especially disinclined to continue leading training on issues of racial discrimination.
“As a White person I couldn’t train a room of Black participants on experiences close to them.” Her discomfort with the material didn’t end there. While she appreciated the renewed focus on psycho-social hazards, she felt the ever-increasing resources, which she was at first happy to lean on as she found her sea legs, soon became a source of frustration. The curriculum on sexual and racial harassment, for example, unlike the other hazards training material she was used to, seemed a dry, technical brochure of how to report, not prevent, those hazards she so wanted to see eliminated in the workforce. It would seem Sophia—and her audience—preferred a guide that put vulnerable groups in command and on the offense, not a paper-peppered defense…at least not divorced from an offensive. Reporting did have its place, she conceded. Though, where was the empowerment?
Nevertheless, Sophia found that while the training and resources “could have been better, [they were] adequate” for the training requirements, and for building those transferrable skills she earlier mentioned. “I have social work aspirations, so this fits well; it helped me grow. The public speaking was particularly a learning and growing experience. It helped me do things that I’m typically scared of.”
She was most affected by the real-time impact of COVID-19 training, pre-training dress rehearsals, and debriefings. The timing and immediacy of these elements, coupled with the vast array of printed resources Tom provided early on in her career, supported her feeling of independence and competence, and they stirred her towards a better, more confident performance. “I appreciated it,” she said with an earnestness that conveyed just how much she truly did. In the post-interview debriefing Tom conceded that that comment was the highlight of the meeting for him. His efforts of the six years building the TL@W program had been rewarded.
Sprinkled throughout the sixty-minute discussion were Rapid-Fire sessions. It had been decided, before the formal questioning began, that the interviewer, at various points, would pose questions for which Sophia would answer immediately with a thumbs up (“definitely, yes”); thumbs sideways (“maybe, I dunno”); and thumbs down (“quite out of the question!”). As with all the questions she answered that day, she responded to these flashing queries with aplomb and quick wit, as demonstrated in the few times she pumped the breaks (yes, technically cheating, but totally legitimate given the subject matter) to ask for clarification.
Overall, the meeting was a smashing success—quite fruitful in fact—in no small part due to Sophia’s shining personality and willingness to open up to her former mentor…and company.
The team is looking forward, they say, to many, many more of these opportunities.
Ishan became a Peer Leader after completing the Training for Trainers in December 2018. He thus became proficient in leading the curriculum of Identifying and Controlling Workplaces Hazards, Sexual Harassment at Work and Workplace Violence and Bullying.
- In 2019, 264 youth were trained by Teens Lead @ Work (TL@W); Ishan led the training of 129 youth at his high school and the youth at a local organic farm, the Youth Farm.
- In February 2020, Ishan was trained in the New York State Laws Governing Employment of Minors.
- In 2020, 116 youth were trained by TL@W; Ishan led the training of 23 youth at a local charter school, the youth in a nearby city urban farm and the Youth Farm.
- In November 2020, Ishan was trained in What is Unlawful Discrimination in the Workplace?
- In 2021, 114 youth were trained by TL@W; Ishan lead the training of 35 youth with a county youth employment program, a local village high school and the Youth Farm.
Also, in February and March of 2021, Ishan was part of the team that led the training of four new peer leaders. He also helped with outreach to training partners, helped complete training evaluation statistics, and contacting trainees for job follow-up evaluations. He also participated in a radio interview about the work and mission of TL@W.
Ishan was hired as the Youth Coordinator for MCOSH in the fall of 2021. He coordinated and led the outreach to training partners to organize youth training for the 2022 program. Along with a MCOSH Co-Program Director, he created an application process for a new cohort of Peer Leaders and began that effort. Interviews of applicants from that effort commenced in February of 2022.
This overview of his experience as a Peer Leader is based on an exit interview. He felt he was given all the resources that he needed to succeed in the program. If they weren’t immediately available, he was encouraged to seek them out on his own. He felt that his achievements were very much recognized by MCOSH, but that at some point they didn’t line up with his career aspirations. He outgrew COSH.
Ishan was with MCOSH throughout high school and into his early college years. He helped create the culture of sharing and risk taking during those years. It was a safe place to share criticism and feedback. “Because the organization prioritized the experience of the peer leaders, I felt a need to prioritize my own needs.”
Ishan saw the work that he did with Teens Lead @ Work as supporting his career goals. It got him to the plateau that he is now on. The skills that he has gained – self-organization/time management, e-mail etiquette, public speaking and interacting with peers and adults – have put him in a good place to move forward.
When asked about the office culture that he experience at MCOSH and its construction union environment, he commented, “It was a safe and nice place.” “Some of the characters passing through were challenging but it was comparable to the greater world.”
Ishan had a chance to evaluate his supervisors; the Youth Coordinator before him, the Co-Program Director that he worked with on Teens Lead @ Work and MCOSH’s overall staff coordinator, who is also the Board Chair. That honesty and positive feedback is helping us move from his leaving the program.
One area that Ishan found challenging were the goals and objectives of the organization. “We were often pulled in different directions.” What seemed like priorities became unclear and not completed, then there were new priorities with another focus. “Then other pressing matters came up.” Although this is the nature of an activist organization that does have long term strategic goals and shorter-term objectives that training as an organizer has not been a part of the Teens Lead @ Work training.
Ishan was asked how this experience gave him criteria for choosing a new employer. He sees internships is his immediate future. He wants something as challenging as Teens Lead @ Work but he wants his passion to be uppermost of mind. He will be offering the skills he has gained, and he will take the self-advocacy with him.
Aside from his advice to staff and supervisors to maintain and learn the communication skills required to be with teens, he also had advice for the MCOSH Board. He advised that other Board members make their presence more know and become more active in the day-to-day work. “I think the Board could embrace new ideas, re-imagine the process and final outcome even if they are the same.”
When is a Nice, Sunny Day a Hazard?
John Clarke, Jr., TL@W Peer Leader and Ithaca High School Sophomore
I am fifteen years old, and I helped lead a training today. It was a health and safety training that I had prepared for, for some time. My trainees were fellow teens who happened to be working outdoors this summer. And although my peer-leader team was well-practiced, I had no clue the role I would end up playing today.
During a breakout session—when we split into small groups to scavenger hunt for potential hazards and safety opportunities—something came to me: One of the hazards of working outside in the sun, was the sun. Of course! Then I thought, well, based on a tool we use, called the Hierarchy of Controls, we know that we can’t just get rid of the sun. While elimination is the most effective way to manage a hazard, it’s not always the most practical. And, in this case, it was impossible; not something in our control. So, what was in our control? For that, we had to go down the hierarchy. I wanted to get my peers thinking about it too. So, I asked them, “How do we reduce the risk of sun exposure?” Nothing. “Do you know what melanoma is?” Silence. “How about sunscreen, do you guys ever wear it?” To my surprise, everyone answered this time: “ Never.”
This made me think, sadly, of Mollie Biggane. Mollie, a healthy young lady, passed away at the age of twenty from melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Mollie’s form of skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States. For my peers, who work in the sun all day, to not know the risk of sun exposure was very concerning to me, especially since melanoma cases have risen by fifty-four percent in the last decade. So, I decided then and there to let you guys know about it, and to let you know about health and safety training in general. I don’t know, maybe it might inspire you, like it had me, to join in protecting teens across our state and region.
But I have to start from the beginning…
My father, Dr. John Clarke, Sr., is the Director of Occupational Medicine and Safety at Cornell University, and he introduced me to Mollie’s story, as he has had for countless others throughout the years. And from the beginning of my joining the Teens Lead at Work (TL@W) team with Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health (MCOSH), my father has encouraged me to remain engaged. He feels this kind of work is important and prepares you for the real world. In his real-world experience, he deals with the health and safety of the campus, including the university’s scientists, police, veterinarians, and students, and, even the wellbeing of those in the greater Tompkins county.
It was my father’s involvement in the community that led him to meet my school’s athletic director, Samantha Little, at Ithaca High School.
And, Ms. Little was responsible for what happened next…
One day, while I was writing a rap song, I got a call. I normally don’t answer random numbers but something told me to answer this one. The person on the other end was Tom Joyce, the program director at MCOSH…and soon to be, my supervisor. But little did I know at the time that he was calling me for this amazing opportunity.
See, MCOSH is a small local community group that helps people in need of assistance navigate through OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is an agency of the U.S Department of Labor that helps to ensure the safety and health of all workers. It does so by enforcing laws and regulations in workplaces through training, regulation, outreach, and financial assistance. And, at TL@W, we support this mission by having teens train teens, and adults, on how to protect themselves, their colleagues, and their workplaces.
And Tom wanted my help.
I had already been working with a social justice group at Ithaca High School. Now, I would be continuing that work while earning a good hourly wage, boosting my skills and resume, and building a network of peers well beyond my high school. It was a no brainer. I signed up.
I have lived in Ithaca for four years; but I am originally from Long island. And I am very glad we moved here because so many opportunities like the one Tom offered has popped up. In addition to my work at MCOSH, I play basketball, spend time with my three siblings, and I work on social justice projects at Ithaca High School. And best of all, I make health-related rap songs with my dad, Dr. Clarke, and I get to hear many of my mom’s adventures at Cayuga Medical Center, where she is the director of nursing.
All of this…and I dream of more.
For more to happen, though, I need your help. I would like to recruit MCOSH TL@W co-workers from all types of backgrounds. I would like the program to continue to offer a safe space where we can express our feelings and experiences. I would like to do trainings at bigger companies. (I hope that more in our community, large and tiny, will invite us to give talks and presentations). I would also like our group to meet other teens doing the same type of work across the country. And I would like, most of all, for you to join me.
How will my dreams and this job affect your future? Maybe the same way it has already mine—build your confidence, develop your public speaking, and grow your network of fellow social justice leaders like you and me! Feel free to reach out! Call our Teen Line at 607-288-3203 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Peer Leaders for 2021
- Rayshan Phipps, 9th Grade, Lehman Alternative Community School
- Justin Yearwood, 9th Grade, Ithaca High School
- Justin Richardson, 9th Grade, Ithaca High School
- John Clarke Jr., 9th Grade, Ithaca High School
OSHA Youth Summer Jobs Campaign
Statement by Miles Cleveland, MCOSH TL@W Peer Leader
Student at New Roots Charter School, Ithaca
I am working as a peer leader with the Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) in upstate New York, a proud sister community organization to OSHA that focuses on the safety of youth workers. I have received a plethora of eye opening information about what a safe work environment truly means, and how each and every worker contributes to how safe and welcoming a workplace can be. Speaking up about hazards you have found in the workplace, while it can be an incredibly daunting and even frightening task, is an important duty. Whether it be a hazard of chemicals, or repetitive motions, or faulty machinery, or clients, or even your coworkers, it is important to know that when you feel your safety is at risk you are not alone. Not only do organizations like Midstate COSH and OSHA stand behind you, but your fellow coworkers as well (even if it may not seem like it.)
As a young worker, I wish I had known about that sooner. When I was about 13 years old, I volunteered at a nursing home. Having no prior knowledge about what a workplace hazard may look like aside from exposed wires or dangerous machinery, I went into that situation extremely ignorant.
When I was faced with an older coworker of mine who was acting inappropriately towards me over the course of multiple shifts, (touching my hair, telling me how pretty I was, asking me where I lived) I was at a loss. My supervisor didn’t seem to take my experience seriously, perhaps because the harasser in question had seniority over me. Not only that, talking to her only seemed to make my coworkers resent me. With no clue where to turn for support in a seemingly hopeless, terrifying situation, I quit the program.
Knowing what I know now from training provided to me on preventing and reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, I really regret that I dropped that position. I regret that nobody told me sooner that there are multiple organizations out there that could support me. Also, I didn’t have anybody to tell me that my experience was far from normal.
Every worker deserves the knowledge and support necessary to speak up in these situations; especially working youth. In fact, it is our duty on behalf of ourselves and our coworkers to speak up when we experience or witness something like this. I’m very thankful that I know what I do now through the training provided to me by Midstate COSH, and that I have the peace of mind when I go to work knowing how to address these kinds of issues.
For More Information, See mysafesummerjob.org
Midstate COSH has seven teen trainers on staff that help organize workshops to educate young workers on issues of workplace safetyy. All of our trainings are free to employers and employees.