Coffee shop bar with 3 employees working

Every first job is essential

A public-private alliance in Wichita helps young people from low-income neighborhoods break into the workforce

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 dropped far below where it stood in the late 1990s,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 as the nation recovers. 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 long supported YEP. Recent funding provided access to pre-employment workshops for an additional 1,000 students, with the goal of helping 500 obtain jobs.


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