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North Hills Monthly

Young Adults, Businesses Benefit from Learn & Earn Program

Apr 30, 2019 11:10AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Learn & Earn participants working at the Drew Mathieson Center.

Learn & Earn is a collaborative effort between Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and Partner4Work that helps place youth in summer employment with hundreds of participating employers. Shuly Goldman, Learn & Earn’s program manager who oversees day-to-day operations of the program, spoke to us about the mutual benefits enjoyed by both employees and employers.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): What is the idea behind Learn & Earn?  

Shuly Goldman (Goldman): Partner4Work is the Pittsburgh area’s workforce development board; as the primary funder of workforce development activities in Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh, we bridge the gap between job seekers and businesses in need of talent. A few years ago, the county, city and Partner4Work all came together to create a summer youth employment program, and the idea was that the partnership would increase the capacity to help more young adults find meaningful work and connect more businesses with young people. We manage the Learn & Earn program for the county and city. Learn & Earn launched in 2015, and in the first year, we served 1,800 young adults.

NHM: Why was there a need for it?

Goldman: There are two sides to this need, one on the youth side and one related to business.

Youth employment is at a historically low level right now: less than 1/3 of young adults are working while in high school. We know that the skills that youth learn in their first jobs are critical skills to help them have successful careers. Part of the idea is that a young person will learn to work by working. Learn & Earn can provide job opportunities and the space to learn in a really supportive environment. Our youth gain so much from being able to have these opportunities at a young age.

The other part of it, in our region in particular, is that we’re facing real gaps in our workforce. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is predicting by 2025, we’ll have a shortage of 80,000 workers. In part it’s that the Baby Boomers are retiring but also, half the region’s college grads are leaving after they earn their degrees.

So programs like Learn & Earn, from the business side, raise awareness for young adults in the area to learn about job opportunities and career pathways, and it helps businesses by giving them opportunities to cultivate future talent.

NHM: What is the philosophy behind Learn & Earn?

Goldman: It is designed to provide young adults from low-income households with an opportunity to earn a paycheck, to gain that valuable work experience, and to learn about career options and really develop soft skills—the skills needed to become ready both for a career or college. In the program, they’re learning skills that are transferable, so they’re getting more than just a paycheck.

NHM: What are the eligibility requirements?

Goldman: It is open to Allegheny County and City of Pittsburgh residents who are between 14 and 21. They also have to meet certain income requirements; more details can be found on the Learn & Earn website at www.jobs4summer.org.

We also have a corporate internship program. That is a highly selective program that is open to individuals 18-24 who already have had some work or college experience.

NHM: When does the program run?

Goldman: It is a six-week summer program. This year, the job dates are June 24-August 2. The corporate internship program is eight weeks and begins June 10.

NHM: How many people participate each year?

Goldman: Since it started in 2015, each year we serve nearly 2,000 teens and young adults. Last year, for example, we had 2,340 eligible applicants. Each one of those was offered a summer job, and more than three-quarters accepted.

The corporate program is smaller; 30 to 50 individuals participate each year.

NHM: How does the application process work? 

Goldman: We have an online application that can be found at www.jobs4summer.org and applications are open now—we’re happily accepting them until our deadline of May 31 at 5 p.m.

NHM: How are applicants matched with a job?

Goldman: On the application, the young adult has an opportunity to mark down some interests that they have that will help us make that match. For example, there are different opportunities like education or arts or outdoor landscaping. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for young adults who are discovering what their interests are and possible career pathways, so we try to meet their needs. We can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to place them into a job that will perfectly meet what they’re interested in, but we want them to have a meaningful experience. If we’re able to offer a placement or position, we connect that applicant to a local organization we partner with—that organization will work with them, place them in a job and support them throughout the summer to make sure that they have a good experience. 

NHM: What is the pay scale?

Goldman: Most youth will earn $7.25 an hour, which is minimum wage, and in the corporate program, they can earn $10.35 an hour.

NHM: Can you describe some of the work sites and the job descriptions from previous years?

Goldman: Last year, we had more than 380 job sites, and there was a big variety. One example is that we had a group of students who were doing an archival research photography project for an exhibit with the University of Pittsburgh’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood. We also had a group of participants at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center who were learning coding and computer programing to create socially conscious video games.

We have young adults at day cares, summer camps, and in retail, and working in office settings. That is where we rely on the community organizations that we partner with—they’re the employers of record.

NHM: Can you explain how the corporate internship program differs from the ‘regular’ jobs?

Goldman: It is more of a professional setting for corporate interns—for individuals who have that experience already. These young adults are matched with major corporations or major nonprofits throughout the Pittsburgh area, in sectors such as finance, banking, engineering, and health care.

NHM: What are the advantages of securing a job with Learn & Earn?

Goldman: I encourage young people to apply to job openings in any capacity, but we have lot of opportunities and availability. Learn & Earn is more than just a paycheck—for many of our youth in the area, this is their first job. Unlike other summer jobs, it also includes work readiness training, so partners/employers are offering significant support to participants to help overcome barriers that they might be facing in employment in order to help them have a positive experience. All participants are offered 12 hours of work readiness training—skills like financial literacy, professional etiquette, goal setting and public speaking are some examples.

NHM: How does this benefit employers?

Goldman: It’s important for employers to really be able to understand who their future workforce is, and to invest now into those pipelines. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase the career opportunities to the young adults in Pittsburgh.