Summer Time Means Work for San Francisco Teenagers

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The City and County of San Francisco is home to roughly 42,000 teenagers. This summer, as in season’s past, many of City’s young people are in the hunt for employment for their first time.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate for people aged 16 to 19 is 13.7 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for the general population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2016 BLS report noted that between April and July “large numbers of high school and college students search for or take summer jobs,” a trend that expanded America’s youth labor force by 2.6 million, or 12.4 percent, last summer.

Although the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metropolitan Statistical Area boasts the lowest unemployment rate of any conurbation in California, at 3.5 percent, TAYSF – the City’s transitional-age youth outreach network, which was absorbed into the Department of Children, Youth & Their Families at the end of 2016 – estimates that between 8,000 and 9,000 San Franciscans between the ages of 16 and 24 are “disconnected,” meaning that they’re both out of school and out of work.

In 2016, Mayor Ed Lee observed that a “young person’s first job can be their first step on the path to success and self-sufficiency.” In partnership with the United Way Bay Area, Lee created the Mayor’s Youth Jobs+ initiative in 2012 as “the local response to President Obama’s national call to action to create pathways to employment for low-income and disconnected youth,” according to UWBA’s Pamela Pretlow. Initially called “Summer Youth Jobs+”, the program reflects the coordinated efforts of several City departments – including DCYF, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and San Francisco Unified School District – and UWBA to aggregate youth-friendly job postings for seasonal and year-round work, arrange summer internships with community-based organizations, and organize job fairs.

Job fairs culminate in the spring’s annual Youth Resource Fair, which gives young San Franciscans “the chance to work on their job readiness skills as they engage with local businesses and organizations who offer paid jobs, paid internship opportunities and career exploration activities,” said Pretlow. “Community partners are onsite to help young people become interview- and job-ready, and to host mock and live interviews.”

According to Pretlow, “6,100 young adults have been hired as a result” of Mayor’s Youth Jobs+. Private employers with which the program has been most successful have been Starbucks, Walgreens, Bank of America, Safeway, and “a host of law firms.”

Youth Jobs+ is just one of several formative workforce development programs created or funded by the City. Another is San Francisco YouthWorks, initiated by Mayor Willie Brown in 1996, now operated through the Japanese Community Youth Council. YouthWorks, which provides municipal government internships for eleventh- and twelfth-graders, focuses on exposing young people to public service careers, with opportunities ranging from the Controller’s Office to the Public Utilities Commission.

Each student is paired with a City employee within the department to which they’re assigned. Apart from Recreation and Parks internships, which take place largely at outdoor day camps, the work performed by the interns is mostly clerical.  Employment coordinator, Brittany Robinson, noted that “mentors at the worksite also try to give the young people their own projects that they’re working on, so it’s not just like: ‘Here, file these random papers.’ It’s like: ‘This is going to be your project; you’re working on these open cases;’ if you’re at the public planner’s office or something. So the clerical work that they’re doing has a bigger context.”

YouthWorks offers two internship sessions: one during the school year, in which 150 students work between six and ten hours a week; another in the summer, where 300 interns labor for 16 to 20 hours weekly. The interns are paid San Francisco’s minimum wage; $14 an hour as of July 1.  Applications are prioritized based on need, with the intention of serving “youth that have barriers to traditional employment,” in Robinson’s words. “What we’re aiming for is to show them that there are so many jobs available to you through San Francisco city government, in so many different fields.”

The Japanese Community Youth Council administers the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program (MYEEP), a coalition of nonprofits that have provided job readiness training for 25,000 San Francisco teenagers since 1991. According to associate director Beth Sachnoff, these youths, aged 14 to 17, are “usually from low-income families. They may be English-language learners; they may be on other forms of social support, like public housing.” Each MYEEP location accepts about 80 kids each summer, typically receiving more than 200 applications for these slots. The program’s summer cycle begins at the end of May, with ten hours of pre-employment workshops for its accepted applicants, who then are placed at worksites across the City. One of MYEEP’s nine partners is Horizons Unlimited, a youth empowerment organization located on Potrero Avenue.

“In the training, we focus on professionalism, communication, attire, community-building, and then clerical skills: how do you use a copy machine, how do you send a professional email. But the job skills that they learn are more learned from their worksites,” explained program coordinator Nikia Durgin. Horizons Unlimited collaborates with about 25 businesses and community-based organizations that accept MYEEP participants, including Bernie’s Grooming and T.J. Maxx – located South-of-Market – the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, Potrero Kids, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, and the Mission Neighborhood Centers. Other youth are placed in-house at Horizons.

The Potrero Hill Neighborhood House has its own stipend program for young people who aren’t yet ready for employment, Experiment in Diversity. Created by the Nabe’s former executive director, Enola D. Maxwell, as an effort to end youth gang turf wars and increase cultural understanding and tolerance, EID changed its focus to academic remediation, college preparation, and career planning when Sharon Johnson took over in 2003, shortly before Maxwell’s death. “I need these children to look beyond today and into the future, and I need them to understand that their education is the key,” said Johnson.

A year-round program, EID ramps up its offerings in the summer, doubling its daily weekday hours from two to four, which allows for field trips to local colleges and workplaces. “I enjoy taking the kids to the businesses within our community, so they can see the potential for earnings right here,” Johnson said. “Right down the Hill, off Third Street, is the water plant. All they knew about the water plant was that it stunk; it’s stinky. However, when we went inside the doors, they were able to gear up – they put on caps and jackets and such, and they have to wear closed-toe shoes – and then we did the tour. So I gave them an assignment to find out what was the entry-level position and how much did it pay, and what was the top-level position and how much it paid. They have scientists down there testing the water; they have their executives making over $150,000 in that place that stinks on the corner.”

Johnson mentioned similar visits to Recology, and to hospitals where students “talked to cardiologists and surgeons. We’ve looked at designing our own apps and technology, and we went through [the University of California], Hastings [College of the Law], and we’ve talked to lawyers, and we’ve gone to different law firms. It just depends on the students and what their interests are.”

About half of the EID youth are Hill residents; the rest come primarily from other District 10 neighborhoods, such as Bayview. For the summer, they can earn up to $400 each for their participation. Like MYEEP and YouthWorks, EID receives funding from DCYF, enough to cover 30 enrollees, though usually about 60 kids pass through the program each year. Johnson admitted that she’s never turned a child away from EID, looking to the neighborhood for support in the form of volunteer tutors and donations. “We’re here, and we need help,” Johnson said.

Older teenagers in San Francisco often undertake their job searches through the same channels used by adults; websites like Craigslist and Indeed. This was the approach taken last summer by 19-year-old Grace Reed, who graduated from Mission High School in 2016, initiating her first-ever job search during “the last couple weeks” of her senior year.

In prior years, she’d helped a family friend who worked at a summer school – “making copies” and “taking attendance” – but she’d never written a résumé or filled out a job application. “I looked at some templates online for how you’re supposed to do your résumé when you don’t have a lot of job experience and you kind of just have your high school stuff, and I also looked to my mom, because my mom is one of those people whose constantly editing her résumé to make it better, so she really knows what to look for.” She listed her high school extracurriculars and made sure to note her grade point average.

Through the online job-finder, ZippyApp, Reed found work at Landmark Theatres’ Embarcadero Center Cinema, an art-house movie theater in the Financial District. It was the third job to which she’d applied. She’d previously been interviewed at Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Starbucks, but Reed, who knew she’d be leaving the City in September to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara, discovered that coffeehouses are reluctant to hire seasonal workers. “Working at a movie theater doesn’t require quite as much training as working at a coffee shop,” she clarified. “It’s not necessarily less demanding, but the things you have to do are less varied. Cleaning theaters and taking tickets and stuff like that; you don’t have to have the kind of skillset to do that as you do to make, like, 50 different types of Frappuccinos or whatever.”

The interview process was initially “stressful,” but she eventually learned the ropes. “The first one kind of went badly because I was just so nervous that I couldn’t answer the questions properly. I feel like, after that first one, I was kind of okay and in a better mood.  I was still nervous, but I was more able to be myself and not just be caught up in how nervous I was.”

The job experience ultimately “worked out really well for me. It was a really good before-college job. I feel like I learned a lot. You have to deal with people,” including a lot of “irritating people,” she remarked. “It’s just kind of learning how to be in an environment other than a school environment, when that’s really what you’re used to. And I think the work honestly isn’t that hard.”