Published Mar 15, 2021 by Susan Moore
The COVID-19 pandemic drove unemployment to record highs across the greater Houston region and the country, disproportionately among Hispanic, Black, Asian, women and younger populations, and presented significant challenges for employers to offer traditional summer jobs and internships to young Houstonians.
It was against this labor market backdrop and the knowledge that COVID vaccines were rolling out that City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the kick-off of this year’s Hire Houston Youth initiative with an appeal for employers to register summer jobs and internships but also year-round opportunities for young Houstonians.
Turner cited data from the Aspen Institute highlighting the disparate impact of the pandemic on unemployment among Hispanic individuals, Black Americans, Asian Americans, but also among white young adults.
“Our emphasis on our youth is even greater than before,” Turner said during the launch event, held at the Workforce Solutions – Northline career office.
The City plans to hire up to 500 youth this summer to work 32 hours a week for up to eight weeks, Turner said. It will pay its young workers $10 an hour, although other employers can offer different compensation. Successful City candidates will receive six hours of job-readiness training and receive guidance from career coaches.
Summer opportunities offered through the Hire Houston Youth initiative should begin by June 14 and conclude by August 5 and can be virtual (remote) or in person.
The job board for youth candidates opened March 15 and will remain open through April 16, but employers can still register opportunities at HireHoustonYouth.org.
Mark Guthrie, chair of the Gulf Coast Region Workforce Board and executive committee member of the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative, echoed Turner’s commitment to supporting employment opportunities for youth: The board recognizes that starting with young workers is valuable and yields a high return on investment, he said.
“Summer jobs create the opportunity for young people to develop essential workplace skills they will carry throughout their careers,” Guthrie said, listing skills including showing up for work; communicating with customers, co-workers and supervisors; problem solving; and teamwork. Summer employment can also expose students to otherwise unknown occupations, he said.
Guthrie noted the that the COVID-19 pandemic drove the region’s unemployment rate up to 8 percent – compared with the pre-pandemic rate of 3.9 percent – with even higher unemployment rates for teens and young adults.
“Unfortunately, even in a good job market, teens and young adults have limited work opportunities,” Guthrie said. By enrolling in the program, employers can help ensure that young people don’t miss out on the all-important experience that comes with a summer job.
The UpSkill Houston initiative recognizes the value of internships, pre-apprenticeship and other career-connected learning programs in helping students and young people connect with good careers. These programs help participants understand various, less visible, roles and occupations within an industry or organization; identify multiple pathways into industries, businesses, or specific occupations; and develop skills they can use to earn credentials or certification and build their careers. They can also provide a basis for young people to build meaningful relationships with mentors.
Summer internships can be very real on-ramps to careers, as Darryl Samuels, of construction development company D. Samuels & Associates, LLC, said during the kick-off event. Samuels has hired four of five former interns who have graduated college. (Several more former interns are working their way through high school or college, he noted.) Samuels said the program helped him introduce students to careers and opportunities within the construction industry.
Hire Houston Youth began in 2015, when the City offered 450 internships. By 2019, it had grown to include more than 10,000 opportunities, mostly within the private sector. The City adapted its program last year due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but, by partnering with JPMorgan Chase, Workforce Solutions, University of Houston, Houston Community College and Lone Star College, was still able to provide almost 120 youth with 10 weeks of paid instruction and work to combat COVID in various communities, Turner said. Turner has not set a hiring goal for this year as he has in years past, but he hopes the program will regain momentum.
“A lot of young people want to work, but they also need the opportunity to work,” he said.