Starting School with Real Work Experience

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With summer vacation at an end, students across the city are just getting back into the rhythm of the school year. Hundreds of highly-motivated New Orleans public high school students never missed a beat, though. Instead of sleeping in and binge watching tv, they woke up early and put in extra effort to get ahead. Twenty-four students earned employer-validated, industry-based credentials through the Louisiana Department of Education’s Jump Start Summers initiative. And over 200 others completed the YouthForce Internship program.

Youth Force Internship is a competitive program that provides essential soft skills training and places students in paid internships in one of the region’s high-wage, high-demand career pathways: Digital Media/IT, Health Sciences, and Skilled Crafts.

“The idea is to allow students to explore potential career pathways while gaining real work experience and learning the soft skills that employers consistently tell us are so valuable,” said Cate Swinburn, the president of YouthForce NOLA.

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Donzell Williams learned about YouthForce Internship from one of his teachers at Edna Karr High School, where he’s starting his senior year.

“He showed us how we can make our lives better and how much experience we could gain over other teenagers, so I applied,” he said. “My mom was excited because she didn’t have opportunities like this. She wanted me to do this to get experience, because I haven’t had a job.”

“When they tell you that you got selected out of hundreds of people who applied, it makes you feel great,” he continued.

Students begin with 150 hours of training in soft skills, financial and digital literacies, and workplace rights and responsibilities.

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“I’ve been learning about professionalism, how to dress, how to communicate- it was eye opening for me. At school, you don’t really get to learn about those things,” said Naloni Bryant, a senior at Landry-Walker College and Career Preparatory High School who also spent the summer working at a fast food restaurant as well as researching colleges. “I’ve been using all the skills I’ve learned, and I’m even teaching them to my siblings!”

Prior to getting placed in internships, students practiced their soft skills and met working professionals at YouthForce NOLA’s “Shine & Dine” event hosted by Dickie Brennan & Co. and a “Meet & Greet” with dozens of employers at the Superdome.

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“I didn’t know it would be this fun. I’m meeting new people and am encouraged to talk more,” said Jade Logan a senior at Eleanor McMain Secondary School who, at the beginning of the program, described herself as shy. “The Meet and Greet was like having mini interviews. I spent most of my time talking with people who work at Ochsner, and that’s how I got assigned to Ochsner Baptist for my internship.”

About halfway through the summer, the students were placed in internships with the 90 local employers partnered with YouthForce NOLA.

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Tanoah Wright, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School interned at Delgado Community College for Executive Dean Tamika Duplessis.

“My favorite part was getting to know my supervisor and learning about her experiences. At the end of each day, she explained the things she had done, and I liked getting a glimpse of her life,” he said. “I’ve been used to working in fast food, and this job was way more educational. I learned how to interact with people, how to help students, and how to better communicate.”

The YouthForce Internship program culminated with a closing ceremony where families, employers, and public officials celebrated the students’ achievements.

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“It’s a great experience. It really helps you get ready for what you’re going to be doing in life,” said Angel Irizarry, a senior at Edna Karr High School who interned in the HR department at Tulane University. “I would definitely recommend an internship with YouthForce NOLA to classmates to learn about the career they’d like to pursue.”

Jasmine Henderson