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Work experience programs start anew

HOLLYWOOD — After a pause of more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Seminole Tribe’s work experience programs have started to come to life again.

Kerlande Patterson, the supervisor of Tribal Professional Development (TPD), said about 40 students recently enrolled in the Student Work Experience Program (SWEP). It’s a smaller number than normal – a typical year has seen as many as 160 students.

“We’re just getting SWEP back off the ground because jobs are just getting back into the flow,” Patterson said.

The eight-week program runs from June 14 to Aug. 6. Students enter SWEP while still enrolled in high school; the
minimum age is 14. The current summer class includes students from the Naples community and the Immokalee, Big Cypress, Brighton and Hollywood reservations. The group has been placed in departments that include information technology, public works, recreation, the Boys and Girls Clubs, culture, cattle and range, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and in tribal administration offices.

SWEP also operates for one week each spring to coincide with the spring breaks of respective high schools.

WEP & TPD, too

SWEP isn’t the only option under the TPD umbrella at the Center for Student Success and Services (CSSS). The department also runs the Work Experience Program (WEP) and the Advanced Career Development (ACD) program.

Patterson said whereas SWEP is designed for younger students wanting to get their feet wet and try something new, WEP is for those who are starting to think more long term about their job interests. WEP participants need to be at least 18, have a high school diploma, and go through an application and interview process. The program runs for up to two years.

Kerlande Patterson is the supervisor of Tribal Professional Development programs at CSSS. (Photo Damon Scott)

The pandemic affected the program substantially. For more than a year there were no jobs to fill and WEP employees were furloughed and there were layoffs during the shutdown. But Patterson said enrollees have started to return, albeit at a slower pace.

“Once departments tell us they’re ready to take them back, then we’ll push them towards that,” she said.

WEP enrollees are currently in jobs at CSSS, the Okalee Village, Buildings and Grounds, the Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) and the Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO). Past participants have gained full time jobs with the tribe.

“We have someone right now who’s in in buildings and grounds – he’s the A/C person. I asked him the other day: ‘Did you have any experience when you started?’ And he said: ‘I didn’t even know how to hold a screwdriver properly.’ Now he’s the person that comes to service our air conditioner,” Patterson said.

Meanwhile, ACD is more selective and is comprised of no more than five participants at any one time. It is a leadership development program for those who seek full time employment. To qualify you need an associate degree. Patterson said ACD is being revamped and will soon be called the “Emerging Leaders Program.”

“The goal is to give it a fresh face for new Tribal Members who just got their [associate] degrees,” she said.

All work experience positions are paid. Hours range from 20 to 40 hours a week, depending on the department and program. Patterson hopes that as tribal operations return to more normal levels in its final phase of reopening, interest will increase.

“I want TPD to be a pillar in the community, because this is the only program within tribal government where the Tribal Members have direct access and there are no experience restrictions,” she said. “As long as a department is capable and able to accommodate them, the Tribal Member just needs to have the basic qualifications.”

For more information, contact Patterson at kerlandepatterson@semtribe.com.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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