for the kids

City of Houston launches annual career development and internship program for young adults

The city tapped key partners for the initiative, including a Houston startup. Photo courtesy

City officials and business leaders in Houston are recruiting employers to collectively offer at least 12,000 paid jobs and internships this summer for local 16- to 24-year-olds.

Organizers on March 8 kicked off this year’s Hire Houston Youth initiative. It encourages employers in the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to bring aboard youth for summertime jobs and internships.

One of the program's partner is Ampersand, a Houston-based startup and tech platform that has designed a career-readiness curriculum for this age group. In partnership with the City of Houston, Ampersand customized a portion of its curriculum to upskill and prepare young Houstonians for the workforce across 35 lessons, five modules, and four hours of content — all of which provide essential job skills ranging from email best practices to mental health management in the workplace.

Employers can sign up for Hire Houston Youth online. The deadline for youth to apply for jobs or internships through this program has been extended from March 11 to April 8.

“Employment plays a pivotal role in reducing gender, ethnic, racial, and other social inequalities,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “Therefore, providing meaningful employment experiences for our youth is in the best interest of all, including young people, their communities, and Houston as a whole.”

In 2021, as the city coped with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hire Houston Youth offered more than 9,500 opportunities. This year, Turner hopes the program can produce at least 12,000 jobs and internships, and as many as 15,000.

The National League of Cities recently awarded a $150,000 grant to Hire Houston Youth. In addition to the grant, Houston will receive assistance from National League of Cities staff and other experts to advance the city’s efforts to expand STEM career opportunities for marginalized young people.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. ranks as the highest among all age groups. In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the national unemployment rate for the 16 to 24 age group stood at 8.4 percent. No other age group had an unemployment rate above 4.1 percent in 2019.

The jobless rate for people of color and lower-income people in this age group has historically been higher than the overall rate for that age group.

The pandemic exacerbated unemployment woes for 16- to 24-year-olds in the Houston area around the country. Data compiled by the Schultz Family Foundation and Mathematica shows that during the peak of the pandemic, youth unemployment rates in the Houston area ranged between a low of 12.6 percent from July to December 2020 and a high of 16.1 percent from January to June 2021.

The Measure of America project estimates that more than 4.1 million Americans in the 16-24 group are neither working nor attending school. In Harris County, 13.4 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds in Harris County met that definition in 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“The years 16-24 are crucial for the development of human capital — through activities such as education and workforce preparation that pay dividends in the form of higher wages, lower unemployment, and other benefits later in life. Yet even before the pandemic, many young people were disconnected from school and work and the economic opportunities that follow,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says in a 2021 report.

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $110 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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