Youth jobs can have place in any industry

Grove said DEED is working on an employer toolkit that would index all of the companies in Minnesota that focus on youth job placement. 

The Next Minnesota Economy is an ongoing series focused on the economic regrowth of the state after a year of regression. State officials will be hosting several virtual roundtable discussions about building an inclusive economy where everyone can succeed, reskilling Minnesota for the jobs of the future and creating good jobs that provide family-sustaining wages.

In the fourth of the series, Daily News examines youth jobs and how companies can incorporate them.

Low-wage jobs were among the hardest hit by the pandemic in the state, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said. That, in turn, affected youth, who often are employed in low-wage jobs.

Hamse Warfa, DEED deputy commissioner, said there was a dip in the number of youth participants in summer work last year due to the pandemic. They want to see that number increase this year, and it’s on track to.

Youth unemployment increased from 7.6 percent in January 2020 to 13.8 percent in January this year, Grove said. This summer, the state is driving to place youth back into jobs and restimulate the state’s economy. The goal: 6,000 jobs and internships for youth in summer 2021.

“It’s important that we center this economic recovery around equity and ensuring everything we do will use the lenses of equity, and ensuring that communities hit hardest are also at the front end of receiving the services they deserve,” Warfa said.

Grove said some of his takeaways from previous roundtable discussions have been to set bold goals, explore more virtual options, and create new types of opportunities for youth in companies (i.e. social media, language translation, a seat on a board).

David Larson, vice president of CentraCare Health Support Services, said they were able to partner with CareerONE — a summer skills acquisition program for youth ages 14-17 — last year despite the pandemic. Larson said a toolkit like CareerONE is helpful for companies looking to employ youth. Other programs include Youth at Work and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Larson said their experience working with youth at CentraCare has been overwhelmingly positive. Plus, they consistently have 800-1,000 jobs open at their company.

“We can afford to hire some kids in the summer,” Larson said.

A multitude of job openings with no one to fill them is a statewide problem right now, Larson said. Growing youth job opportunities could help alleviate some of the pressure.

Jenave Mendoza, a participant in one of the youth workforce programs, said having a good structure and employer flexibility is important for people her age pursuing work on top of school.

“For me, I’m in my junior year, so my school work load is a large amount,” Mendoza said.

She said her supervisor has been able to work with her to meet her needs, and she was able to learn skills essential to most careers. Students can find programs aligned with their interests and future goals.

Larson said having youth walk away from the experience with something tangible, like a certificate or college credit, could inspire even more youth to get involved in summer work programs. At CentraCare, the students are able to learn healthcare terms, practice through simulations of patient care activities and receive CPR and first aid training and certification.

“We wanted to emphasize this wasn’t solely about healthcare. Recognizing that there’s all sorts of industries that serve healthcare, so there’s also a business track, and new last year was a construction and manufacturing track,” Larson said.

Grove said DEED is working on an employer toolkit that would index all of the companies in Minnesota that focus on youth job placement. The toolkit would also have tips for employers who are interested in hiring youth.

Larson said there is a knowledge gap for employers who think hiring a minor would be risky or involve stringent rules preventing youth work in a specific industry.

“Initially some of our department leaders as we talked about having youth come in said, ‘Well, we can’t have kids in here, it’s against the law.’ Well, let’s talk about what we’re actually asking them to do. We’re not asking them to do surgery,” Larson said.

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