Participants in the 2021 Y.E.S.+ program are learning to operate and maintain equipment at the Port of Savannah. The program will be expanded in 2022 to include other departments at Georgia Ports.
Training curriculum sets high school graduates up for success
In early 2019, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) launched a workforce development program aimed at career-ready high school seniors. The program, which has accepted 26 students to date, has been so successful that GPA recently expanded the Youth Learning Equipment and Safety/Youth Elevating their Skills and Training program, now known as Y.E.S.+
The initiative previously focused on terminal operations and maintenance positions, but Y.E.S.+ will begin including other departments such as Finance and Human Resources when the 2022 program kicks off in August.
Rickia Pitts, a 2021 graduate from Savannah High School, had never operated heavy equipment before joining the program this past fall. After just a few months, Pitts is now driving forklifts and jockey trucks on Garden City Terminal.
“It has been a great opportunity and a wonderful path to take in my career,” Pitts said.
Since coming onboard, Pitts and the other trainees have been learning how to operate equipment and perform maintenance duties at the Port of Savannah.
“GPA needs qualified, career-ready individuals to join our world-class workforce,” said Lise Altman, Chief Human Resources Officer. “The Y.E.S.+ program offers local young people a chance at a career in this fast-growing industry.”
The program provides an alternative for graduating high school seniors who are not pursuing a traditional four-year college track. As much of the current workforce comes closer to retirement, new, skilled workers are needed to ensure GPA stays ahead of future growth.
“GPA is seeking the best and brightest candidates from our local schools,” said Manager of Learning and Development Tanya Chisholm. “The program gives Y.E.S.+ trainees the necessary tools to become exemplary employees.”
South Effingham graduate Kameron McCloy is the first trainee assigned to the maintenance department. Since he didn’t plan on attending college, the program was the best choice to immediately enter the workforce.
“I’m looking forward to a long career here at GPA and being able to live my best life,” McCloy said.
To be eligible, current high school seniors must graduate by August 2022. Prospective hires must also have a valid state driver’s license, be eligible for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), and provide an essay of consideration written by the student and two reference letters.
Chisholm also said the program teaches trainees the soft skills needed to be successful employees, such as better communication, preparing for work and time management.
At first, the new employees said they were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the single largest container terminal in North America. However, trainees are paired with an experienced GPA mentor for the first year. The program also includes hands-on and classroom training.
Trainees receive a unique experience, finding opportunities to challenge themselves daily. Some said they have developed new skills in just the first few months.
“I never thought I’d do something like this, but this program taught me a different side of myself,” Pitts said.
The Y.E.S.+ program can also provide a fast-track to other positions at the GPA. One previous trainee is now a ship-to-shore crane operator while others are exceling in rubber-tired gantry cranes, top lifts and jockey trucks.
“We are so proud of all our Y.E.S.+ trainees, past and present,” Altman said. “It is amazing to see these students grow into a rewarding career.”