Youth employment a priority for Minneapolis


A city program will provide 2,300 youth jobs this summer.

As Minnesotans wait for an economic turnaround, some Minneapolis youth are experiencing what that change could feel like.

The federal government gave the city of Minneapolis $1.6 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for various youth employment programs that will provide 2,300 youth jobs this summer. The STEP-UP program in Minneapolis will be responsible for 1,300 of those jobs for youth between the ages of 14-21.

The money created 500 youth jobs this summer — exciting employment news for the city given Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s announced $300 million budget cut in city, county and local government aid.

STEP-UP funds salaries for youth workers at programs such as The Young Women’s Mentoring Program. The nine girls in the program started their first day on Monday at YouthCARE in Minneapolis, learning how to open and manage a bank account among other new skills. China Robinson, 14, said she is excited to teach other people new things.

“I want teaching skills,” Robinson said. “I want to be more patient with girls.”

The demand for jobs through STEP-UP continues to increase, with 3,200 applications for summer 2009.

STEP-UP Director Tammy Dickinson said that while the demand for jobs is always higher than they can serve, the program continues to help those applicants find employment.

“The $1.6 million went into funding new projects so that for all of those 2,000 kids that we weren’t able to serve, we’re trying to fund organizations in the community that will take some of those applicants,” Dickinson said. “As a matter a fact, we referred the names of our kids that applied to the organizations when we funded them.”

The idea behind STEP-UP comes from a bigger initiative Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak created in 2006 called the Minneapolis Promise. The three components of the mayor’s plan are education and career counseling, summer jobs and financial assistance for college.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Jeremy Hanson, said Rybak’s goal with STEP-UP is to provide a higher quality job experience for young people.

“In addition to all of the summer programs that the city has for young people, STEP-UP is special in a couple ways,” Hanson said. “These jobs are privately funded, so the employers are providing their salaries.”

STEP-UP is the city’s largest youth employment program, working with 172 businesses metro-wide. The program places 14 and 15-year-olds in non-profit organizations, while the 16-to-21-year-olds involved are placed with local businesses such as Best Buy and U.S. Bank.

Part of what the Young Women’s Mentoring Program focuses on is younger women of color interacting with mentors who live in their neighborhoods.

Rahma Mohamed, 14, of the Glendale neighborhood in Minneapolis, said she likes getting to interact with the girls she lives near.

“We can learn new experiences from each other,” Mohamed said. “We’re going to learn things here that will make us ready for high-school next year.”

STEP-UP also provides other opportunities prior to the first day of work.

“In addition to summer jobs these students get a job training and life skills program that was certified by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce,” Hanson said. “So on the first day of work they already have training and are prepared so they know what it’s like to work at a bank or a law firm, and to be on time.”

Mohamed said it is nice to be in a program with all young women.

“I hope to get a lot of new learning experiences from the activities and be more out there,” she said. “When you’re with boys you can’t put yourself out there. We feel comfortable asking questions you can’t ask normally.”

The stimulus funding does not go toward for-profit jobs associated with STEP-UP. Funds from the investment were also distributed to Adult and Dislocated Worker Training.