Youth Find Ally in Job-Skills Guru


June 26th, 2006

Like many Americans, Laura Katen laments the current state of customer service in this country.

Young people behind registers are often too focused on their personal lives rather than the customer before them. It’s all too common to see such workers carrying on conversations with fellow workers or friends while failing to even acknowledge the customer.

“Young people don’t understand that they’re doing themselves no favors in exhibiting such behavior,” Katen says. “They fail to recognize that their next opportunity may be right before them.”

That’s one reason Katen left her job at a real estate investment firm five years ago to start her own company, Harrison-based Katen LLC, which trains students and young workers in etiquette and job skills.

“I figured the only difference between successful young adults and unsuccessful ones is the knowledge base,” she says.

If youthful job seekers know what they need to do and have been trained to do it, they can capitalize on opportunities when they materialize, she says.

To that end, Katen offers workshops to disadvantaged youth and middle school, high school, college and vocational school students ages 11 to 26.

“The whole crux of our workshop program is how to be prepared to do business in America,” she says.

As the former director of the Girls Empowered through Meaningful Support, or GEMS, at the YWCA in White Plains, Courtney Bryant hired Katen to present her Enhance Your Chance workshops to at-risk girls in the middle- and high-school grades.

Katen’s classes appeal to such students, Bryant says, because they understand the importance of communicating effectively.

“When you’re job seeking or giving presentations in school, there’s a lot of concern as to whether it will go OK,” she says.

In acquiring the skills, young people build self esteem, she says. “They feel comfortable in saying what they have to say, and that doesn’t happen every day.”

Katen says she developed the courses to transcend race and class, taking two years before striking out on her own to interview teachers, administrators and parents, among others, to come up with 13 workshop programs.

The courses enhance personal growth and increase the chance of professional and academic achievement, she says.

While the program was started to help disadvantaged youth, the lessons have reached beyond that group to those already working in substantial positions at law firms and other businesses.

One example is Robin Pecchia, who hired Katen on a one-to-one basis to give the Manhattanville College graduate a leg up in her search for a job as a teacher’s assistant.

The most important thing Katen taught Pecchia, 25, was to be more confident during the job-seeking process, she says, especially during interviews.

It worked, says Pecchia, who lives in Mamaroneck.

After recently interviewing for her position, she felt much more secure in what she was saying and selling herself. Katen also showed Pecchia how to express an enthusiastic, positive attitude, she says. “I was not insecure about it at all.”

Though concepts of etiquette and dressing well may seem like perfect fodder for young adults to roll their eyes at, Katen says her students are receptive to her message.

Ninety-five percent of her students attend her classes, she says.

That’s because the skills taught are relevant to the students’ lives, Katen says.

“No matter how old you are, or what you do with your life, whether it’s hands-on vocational work or a mayor’s assistant or a CEO,” she says, “you need to have basic skills.”

-David Schepp
The (Westchester, NY) Journal News, June 26th, 2006

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