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Sonya Padgett

MGM Resorts internship program helps high-school grads

20 August 2012

LAS VEGAS -- One by one, 47 recent high-school graduates stood in front of a crowded training room at MGM Resorts International's corporate office and answered a series of questions about their futures.

Where do you see yourself in five years? What career do you want? Where will you live and what kind of car will you drive? And, most importantly, how do you expect to pay for it all?

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of these young adults gave answers inspired by reality television.

"I watch 'The Hills,'" one well-dressed young woman said to Becky West, human resources director for Circus Circus, Gold Strike and Railroad Pass and the leader of this life-skills class.

The young woman planned to be a personal stylist and fashion consultant. A cast member of "The Hills" launched her own style career by landing an internship with Vogue magazine. If she could make it in the competitive industry of celebrity style consultants, a young, recent high-school graduate from Las Vegas could, too. Right?

West, who watches the same TV show, injected a dose of reality into the young woman's plans. Such a scenario, she explained, is unlikely when you aren't famous and lack industry connections. Although it isn't impossible to land a high-profile fashion internship, she added, it's always smart to have a backup plan.

The new graduates, all members of the "Reclaim Your Future" program, which helps at-risk students graduate from high school, were a few days into internships at MGM properties. Every Friday throughout their five-week program, they gathered in a classroom to receive the kind of guidance that even well-established adults could benefit from. The program ended last week.

MGM Resorts was one of several local companies that partnered with Workforce Connections Las Vegas to be part of the summer program.

The latest Bureau of Labor statistics show that the national teen unemployment rate has held steady at 24 percent during the past year. Combined with Nevada's low graduation rate, 56 percent, local teens are at a disadvantage in the workforce, said Byron Goynes, community and employment liaison for Workforce Connections, a U.S. Department of Labor board that distributes funds to help train and employ Southern Nevadans.

All of the interns in the "Reclaim Your Future" program had been at risk of not graduating a year ago, he said. Through a series of training seminars, coaching and tutoring, they were put on track to graduate this year. Their reward for finishing high school was a paid internship where they could learn what it meant to have a job and what kind of training and education they would need to build a career, he added.

This was the first time the company took on interns directly out of high school, said Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher, vice president of corporate diversity and community affairs for MGM Resorts.

"We hope to show the students what's next," Bluitt-Fisher said. "Now that they've graduated, we want to give them exposure to job opportunities ... we have in the company."

Even though MGM is a gaming company, Bluitt-Fisher said, there is a wide variety of careers that make up the corporation. Graduates were placed in nongaming departments including corporate philanthropy, spas, pools, special events and attractions.

Jessica Grant-Edwards, 18, was the envy of her peers as she landed one of the more coveted internships at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay.

She had never been to the aquarium and had never imagined that someone could have a career working with fish in Las Vegas.

"This is so cool," she said as she prepared to feed some of the fish on a recent Friday.

Though she wants to be a therapist one day, she is starting to think of other possibilities, maybe something working with animals.

In addition to the jobs, the interns received training in business etiquette, how to do interviews, write resumes, search for a job, network and other areas, West said. They talked about the graduates' five- and 10-year plans. They helped them realize that driving a new luxury car right out of high school wasn't a practical choice for everyone.

Ivan Poma, 18, was assigned to corporate events, the department that is tasked with planning a variety of large-scale events, including New Year's Eve celebrations, conventions and more. He enjoys working with his hands and hopes to one day work in a creative field where he invents things. But the life skills training helped him realize that he will need to get a job to earn money so that he can eventually go to college.

"That really opened my eyes," Poma said of the life skills seminar. "I've really got to start planning."
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