Over the next eight weeks, high schools across the country will be letting out for summer, and that means there will be plenty of teenagers with time on their hands. If that time is not filled with a summer job, it could have long-term implications for their professional lives.
"For kids who aren't going to college, getting that summer job provides them with some experience in terms of acquiring soft skills, in terms of establishing good work habits," said Alicia Modestino, an associate professor of public policy and urban affairs and economics at Northeastern University. "We've actually seen some surveys that have shown that teens who don't have those soft skills, or haven't been used to having good work habits, typically have a more difficult time holding on to a job later on."
The teen unemployment rate has been above 17 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis since May of 2008, a persistent problem the economic recovery has yet to solve. But it's a problem the National Academy Foundation (NAF) and a number of big name companies, including Verizon, Cisco Systems and Ernst & Young, have been working to address for years.
ANYTHING BUT THEORETICAL
Their solution? Provide summer internships for students who participate in NAF programs across the country.
"Internships are a cornerstone of our design and have been a cornerstone for 30 years," said NAF's President J.D. Hoye. "It's one thing to be theoretical and to imagine what it's like to be an engineer or scientist or a reporter. It's quite another to actually try to get into that experience and then understand the fundamentals of what you need to know in order to do that career or job well."
The National Academy Foundation was founded in 1982 by former Citigroup Chairman and CEO Sandy Weill. Started as a program to expose and educate New York City high school students about careers on Wall Street, it now includes programs focused on industries including technology, engineering and hospitality and tourism. NAF curricula are found in 667 schools across the country in 38 states.
The students are taught classes by professionals how what they're learning in school can be applied in the real world. The students visit the businesses that partner with NAF to get a first-hand look at what jobs are out there and, if their application is accepted, will get a paid internship from those firms, as well.
"For us, it is really the ultimate experience that makes education make sense," said Hoye, noting the internships provide an added bonus for the students. "Our model allows students to create networks of professionals that they would not otherwise have had access to."
NOT AFRAID TO ASK STUFF
Last summer Mikhail Kreytser, a sandy-haired senior at Brooklyn's James Madison High School and a student in the NAF IT program worked at Verizon. Among his jobs, setting up Excel files to track inventory.
"I learned time management skills. I learned to be open with people and, like, not to be afraid to ask questions," said Kreytser, who is attending City College in New York City this fall and plans to study computer science. "I feel like everyone was friendly, and you shouldn't be afraid to ask stuff."
This summer Verizon will hire more than 50 NAF students as interns. The idea of the program is to expose them to an array of jobs available at the company. They may work in the company's lab, helping to test the sturdiness of Verizon's handsets in a phone tumbler. They may help check the quality of a phone's audio, or they may be asking folks back at the company's operations center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, if "they can hear me now.'"
"We have a program where we drive over a million miles a year with 100 men and women to drive test our wireless network, to make sure it's the best," said Nicola Palmer, chief network officer of Verizon Wireless. "We have interns that work side by side with our engineers kind of post-processing the data to say, 'Where can we make our network work even better?' "
The intern program is staffed by what Palmer said are hundreds of Verizon volunteers who work as mentors, who teach classes at local schools with NAF programs, or who work with local advisory boards on developing NAF curricula. They also have been called upon to give the students a lift.
"Think of a high school student, they may not be able to drive, let alone have access to reliable transportation on a daily basis," said Palmer. "When we looked at the available students that wanted internships and where we had internships, the transportation problem was huge."
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So Palmer and her group got out the maps. They plotted where Verizon employees lived and where the interns lived. They then created hubs where the interns could gather in the morning and the employees could pick them up, and drop them off at the end of the day.
Verizon would not say what the interns are paid, only that Verizon's wages were competitive. For Verizon, though, the payoff from the program may come years from now, in the form of perspective employees.
"Part of the thinking is absolutely that we are trying to address deficiencies that we see in college graduates in technical fields," she said. "And we need to not just start with college, we need to start at high school and NAF's programs in STEM education. They produce what we're looking for."
A JOB YOU LIKE
Seventeen-year-old Shahzeb Rizvi was looking for something completely different when he shadowed workers at Ernst & Young this school year. The trip was part of part of the NAF program at James Madison. The eldest son of a homemaker and an escalator and elevator maintenance man for New York City's MTA, both of whom immigrated from Pakistan, Rizvi always believed working in an office would be miserable.
"If you are watching cartoons, you see people working in cubicle and they're wearing white shirt, black tie and they look stressed out about work," said Rizvi. "But when I was at Ernst & Young, they showed us their workplace and everybody looked happy. They looked like they knew what they were doing and they were just excited about work."
The eye-opening experience helped to alter Rizvi's view of what his future could be, one he hopes will include what he described as a "nice job."
"What I mean is a job in the corporate world. A nice-paying job with friendly people," he said. " A job you like."
A job that could have its start in an internship he applied for this summer.