A first job can provide teenagers and young adults with the ability to pay bills and save for college, as well as an opportunity to learn important workplace skills and find a path toward a future career. Yet according to the Pew Research Center, teen summer employment has been declining since 1998,footnote1 a trend that the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas has been working to combat for more than a decade, through programs supporting work experiences for young people. Since 2009, partnerships established by the Alliance have helped to connect students with jobs and gain workplace exposure, with a focus on Wichita neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates.
The coronavirus pandemic decreased the availability of the retail, restaurant and recreation jobs that traditionally offer young people a foot in the door, making the Alliance’s work even more essential during the recovery. Workforce Alliance leads a program called Helping Youth Prepare for Employment (HYPE), a partnership among the City of Wichita, the Wichita YMCA, Wichita State University and the public school system. HYPE offers a number of programs for different students at different ages, including the Youth Employment Program (YEP), which allows students ages 14 to 19 to attend summer workshops to learn about business etiquette, customer service, money management, resume writing and interview prep. Once the students finish the program, YEP helps to place them in jobs.
Bank of America, a close partner of the Workforce Alliance, has supported the YEP for the past five years. Funding in 2021 will provide access to pre-employment workshops for an additional 1,000 students and help 500 obtain jobs.