Demand increases for program that helps teens find jobs


Vanessa Phillips, 17, is a hardworking teen who attends North High School. Vanessa comes from a low-income family, and knows all about the limited job options out there for her due to her age. 

“My goal was to find a customer-service job, and since I had experience in that area due to working at the (Minneapolis Community and Technical College) book store, which I received from the STEP-UP program in the summer of 2008,” Vanessa said. “It gave me more a chance to apply for certain jobs that I wanted, which got me my first actual job at Taco Bell.”

ThreeSixty Journalism is nonprofit youth journalism program based at the University of St Thomas in St. Paul. It is committed to bringing diverse voices into journalism and related professions and to using intense, personal instruction in the craft and principles of journalism to strengthen the civic literacy, writing skills and college-readiness of Minnesota teens.

STEP-UP is a summer employment program for low-income teens who have limited access to business connections. It helps them get their first job by training them in things like communication and interview skills, developing their resume, and more. The program is funded through the City of Minneapolis.

In the summer of 2010, STEP-UP received three times more applications than positions available. For 1,350 jobs, 4,050 people applied.

More teens seem to need STEP-UP’s help. For the summer of 2008, there were 3,200 applicants. For summer 2010, 4,050 teens applied.

“We had more applicants – over 4,000 – and we have about the same number of jobs (1,350),” said Tammy Dickinson, director of STEP-UP.

“The one thing that I got out of STEP-UP the most was them teaching me more about social skills and how to keep a conversation going, because when I got my job at Taco Bell, that was the main thing I had to do, was to be social,” Vanessa said.

“(Teens) with no work experience will face lower wages when they do find work compared to those teens who have been working for some time,” said Joe McLaughlin, a senior research associate for Center for Labor Market Studies.

As the economy continues to go down, employers are cutting hours, laying off employees and anything else they can do to save money, and Vanessa was one person who experienced that.

“The longer I worked for Taco Bell, the more hours they continued to take away from me. So while receiving less and less hours a week, I started my search for a new job,” Vanessa said. “Surprisingly within a month I was hired at the Mall of America to work in the (amusement) park, offering me $9 an hour – $1.75 more than what Taco Bell paid me,” Vanessa said.

She credits her STEP-UP work experience with giving her a better resume, and getting her a job so fast.

Another Minneapolis teen, Mesgana Tesfahun, 17, has gotten two jobs from STEP-UP. In the summer of 2009 she worked at Bottineau Park and Northeast Park, both in northeast Minneapolis.

“We need more programs like STEP-UP because one: we need money; two: we teens need something productive to do over the summer; and three: we depend on it,” said Mesgana, a junior at South High school.

“In this recession, jobs have been cut. There are few opportunities for teens trying to find one right now,” McLaughlin said.

Young adults and older workers, especially those older than 55, are taking jobs traditionally filled by teens. “Stiff competition has pushed teens out of jobs,” McLaughlin said.

Once accepted in STEP-UP, applicants aren’t guaranteed a job. About 2,100 advance on to training, but there are only 1,350 positions. But teens will keep hoping.

“My experience with STEP-UP was good one. I met a lot of new people and worked with kids … which was new for me, but it wasn’t that bad,” Mesgana said.