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Updated: March 4, 2024 On the record

On the Record: State-funded program helps young Mainers find internships

Person standing in from of books on shelves Photo / Jim Neuger Kay Kerina is the Portland-based program manager for the Maine Career Exploration Program and a graduate student at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Kay Kerina is the Portland-based program manager for the Maine Career Exploration Program, a $25 million state initiative to connect 6,000 young people in Maine to future career opportunities by funding paid work experiences with employers. Mainebiz caught up with Kerina, a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, to find out more.

Mainebiz: What is the Maine Career Exploration Program?

Kay Kerina: The Maine Career Exploration program helps connect young people ages 16-24 in Maine to short-term paid work experiences and the incredible opportunities that Maine employers have to offer. We help to bridge the gap between aspiration and opportunity for young people and employers.

MB: What’s a typical work week like for you?

KK: Something that I particularly love about my work is that no two days look the same. Week to week, you can find me either in my coworking space in Portland or in Augusta, then out in Camden — likely on the same day — and back to southern Maine. My week is a flurry of meetings all over the state with schools or employers.

MB: What can you share about the young people and employers in the program?

KK: We have employers giving young people opportunities to be a part of their businesses in a genuine way, and we have young people seeking out unique opportunities from employers.

MB: How long do the internships last, and who funds the paychecks?

KK: Internships typically last from 40 to 75 hours. The staffing agency that the Maine Career Exploration Program contracts with can pay for up to 75 hours, which looks a little different for each young person. One young person may choose to do five hours a day for three days a week for five weeks, and other young people may choose 10 hours a week maybe two hours a day after school and do that for seven weeks. It gives young people time to develop skills and build rapport with employers.

MB: What does the learning module portion of the program entail?

KK: Here is where young people can explore different pathways and they can dive into subject matter that is directly related to their career path. They also can build skills like interviewing or they can learn about professionalism and workplace norms in a supportive way.

MB: What do young people get from this program they cannot get anywhere else?

KK: There are flexible ways to meet both young person and employer needs, and the entire experience is supported from program to on-the-job work experience. There also are easy entry and exit points so that if things don’t work out, they can try again with support. It is so important for young people and employers to be able to navigate that in a safe and supportive way.

MB: What are some success stories that stand out?

KK: The stories that stand out the most are ones that are a happy accident, meaning both the young person and employer didn’t quite know what was going to work out but it turned out to be an awesome experience for both. We have also had quite a few success stories that have ended with job offers; those stand out, too, because that is a full-circle moment.

MB: Is there room for more employers to join the program, and what are you looking for?

KK: There is still so much room for more employers. We are looking for representation in all sectors and all counties, and we need employers to start building the network for team to connect young people. We have so many entry points, and there is no wrong place to start.

MB: What are your own long-term career aspirations?

KK: I would love to take the steps to serve my community even more in the policy realm. I have been a direct service worker as well as a recipient a few times of community supports, and I would relish the opportunity to dive into policymaking in the state in some capacity.

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