Meet Daja

Workforce Challenge 

Daja Thomas received her high school diploma from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 2020.  Finishing high school was not an easy journey for Daja. Taking care of her child, working overnight at FedEx, and trying to go to school full time was too much. Since Daja only needed one more credit to graduate, the guidance counselor at Poly suggested that she attend the Career Academy (CA), an alternative high school that would allow her a more flexible schedule. “The teachers at the Career Academy were so understanding and forthcoming. They made sure that I could balance all my responsibilities and still stay on track to graduate,” Daja said. “As a matter of fact, I was able to work at my own pace and completed my class early.”

Workforce Solutions 

The Career Academy is a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) and Baltimore City Public Schools. Career Academy offers both academic and skills training in an alternative learning environment. Students attend small classes tailored to their specific needs along with job readiness and career development.

Since Daja was able to complete her final high school credit early, she was available to apply to another MOED program - the Baltimore City Career Mentoring Program (YH2O). YH2O is a partnership between MOED, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Chesapeake Water Environment Association (CWEA). Applicants who are ages 18 to 24 and have a high school diploma or GED are eligible for the six-month program that qualifies youth for full-time employment in the water industry. “I was very open-minded about coming into the program and it ended up really building my confidence,” Daja said. “I’ve always been able to get a job but I wasn’t building any kind of career.”

YH2O provides job readiness training, worksite tours, guest speakers, introduction to various careers available in the water industry, and a five-week internship with DPW through MOED’s YouthWorks program. In addition, each participant is matched with a Career Coach who is currently working in the water industry and can offer guidance and support throughout the program. Upon completion, youth attend a Career Fair to interview with public agencies and private water industry employers. Positions are available in labor sectors, tech positions, customer service, and media relations.

Outcomes & Benefits

“I was able to upgrade my resume to a more professional status, I learned about taxes, how to fill out an application, and good interview skills,” Daja said. “The whole experience was very enlightening and as a class, we were all supportive to each other. I didn’t even know there was a Department of Public Works!”

Daja is currently a Community Aide in DPW’s Office of Equity and Environmental Justice. She helps with responding to EEO complaints and performs a variety of office duties. “I love my job and the staff here is like family,” Daja said. “I can see myself moving up the ladder here at DPW. I’d like to take the training that’s available to me to become an investigator.”

In five years, Daja plans to still be with DPW in a position where she feels like she’s making a difference. “I’d like to buy a house in the near future and maybe I’ll take some college classes.” Her advice to other young adults is “Think about the future and where you are going. Think about the people you’re going to influence.”

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