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Finding work for young people

Sara Brook Curtis

In January of 2012, President Barack Obama called upon mayors across the country to create jobs for youth in their cities. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee listened.

At a press conference on April 12, 2012, Lee said, “When President Obama challenged the nation to join him in a national campaign to produce jobs for our young people, I said, ‘San Francisco must step up.’”

It’s hard for San Franciscans between the ages of 16 and 24 to get a job. They suffer an unemployment rate around 18 percent; that's more than three times what it is for the rest of the city and a bit higher than the national average. This despite a budget of $15 million for youth workforce development.

So when Mayor Lee announced the creation of San Francisco Summer Jobs+ to create more than 5,000 jobs, with a focus on at-risk and disconnected youth, it made an impression.

The Doorways

Some funds go to the YMCA in the ethnically diverse Excelsior District. That’s where Aaron Yen is the Associate Director of one of six neighborhood centers, called “Doorway Organizations,” where local kids can get career counseling.

“They have a lot of upside to being in the workforce,” he says. “It gives them a more realistic picture, of what life can be and what life is and how hard it is to make a wage. It gives them the opportunity to earn something. It teaches them the value of a dollar.”

Yen and his team worked with about 100 young people this summer, teaching them computer skills, prepping them to get a job, and exploring work possibilities around the city. Opportunities include gardening in city parks to working at the new Exploratorium. Yen says a lot of kids he sees fall into trouble, because they just don’t know how to find work.

“Young people commit violent crimes and that's one way to divert them,” he says. “Something constructive as opposed to not having anything to do and maybe getting mixed up with the wrong crowd.”

Twenty-two year old Courvoisier Hill lives in Sunnydale, a housing project on the south side of the city. He found employment with the parks department through Arriba Juntos, one of about 30 nonprofits funded through San Francisco Summer Jobs +. It gave him the support he needed to get a job.

“Either you want to get up and be motivated or just sit around and do nothing or hang on the corner or something like that,” he says, “which is easy to do.”

The workforce development program helped him learn things, “like how to keep a job and what you need to maintain a job,” he says. “So that’s being on time, motivated, ready to do anything and tackle any challenges.”

The Job Market

Far away from the Excelsior, in San Francisco’s financial district, other young people are taking those skills further. About 50 interns are getting paid to sit around tables in a conference room and talk about managing their money.

This is another aspect of Summer Jobs+. It’s a weekly class run by the United Way’s MatchBridge: an organization that links youth with jobs in the private sector. Director Matt Poland says young people have found jobs, this summer, with businesses ranging from The Melt to AirBnB to Wells Fargo.

“We just had Starbucks in this week,” says Poland, “which gave conditional offers to 18 young folks out of about 29 who showed up, which is a great rate to have.”

Nineteen-year-old Elexus Hunter got a position with mobile payment company Square.

“It's a serious opportunity,” she says, “especially for people who don't have this kind of access in certain areas.”

Hunter, who went to high school in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, has been getting paid jobs and internships through Matchbridge for three years.

“You get connected with different people in all levels, and it's a great way to see what the workforce is like,” she says. However, “it’s very competitive.”

This summer, the Matchbridge financial literacy internship that Hunter is participating in received 300 applications for only 76 slots.

To serve more people, San Francisco Summer Jobs+ program is expanding into the school year. That means, among other things, they’ll have to change the name.

“Maybe ‘SF After School Jobs’ or ‘Weekend Jobs’ or ‘Job Shadows or Internships or Volunteering,’” says Excelsior District jobs counselor Matthew Snope. “But we definitely want it to be something that is year-round, because eventually students will graduate, and then they're in the workforce and facing the real world.”

Last year, San Francisco’s Summer Jobs+ served about 5,200 youth. This year Mayor Lee called for 6,000. City officials will announce the number of young people who found jobs through the program on September 18.