Federal program aims to increase summer employment

By Philip Bombara

A new federal program aims to bring 100,000 summer jobs to college students this year — but… A new federal program aims to bring 100,000 summer jobs to college students this year — but the initiative will rely on the benevolence of the government and private employers.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced in a teleconference yesterday the creation of a new program called Summer Jobs USA. The initiative is voluntary and brings together private companies and government offices at both the local and national levels.

So far, companies have pledged to create 40,000 jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds, a group that last summer saw its highest rate of unemployment since 1948.

But Solis did not say how the program will hold companies to their pledges and did not set deadlines for employers or mention any incentives for them to participate. That information was not available on the program’s website, which did not specify any graduation or school year requirements for participants.

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Solis said the initiative was created to help young people because, while the economy is recovering, many of them still find it difficult to find jobs.

“Last July, unemployment of 16 to 24 year-old demographic was at 19.1 percent, the highest it had been since 1948 — leaving 4 million people who wanted to work unable to find jobs. With Recovery Act dollars gone, this is an important program to ensure that young people are able to find work,” Solis said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports similar figures on its website.

With thousands of job commitments already from UPS, Wells Fargo and Research in Motion, Solis hopes that other businesses, both large and small, will get involved as well.

Many of the companies and agencies span across several states, including Pennsylvania. It’s not certain yet how many jobs or internships might be available to Pitt students. The majority of the private employers who have already pledged jobs — seven of nine — were golf courses or course management companies.

Working to highlight the mutual benefits between employers and young American workers, the program was introduced this year in response to the expiration of Recovery Act dollars and a lack of federal funding.

The program will use existing workforce services in local neighborhoods to coordinate these jobs, Solis said. Those interested can stop by One-Stop Career Centers — centers that offer training referrals, career counseling, job listings and other employment-related activities — to find out more information. Students can also go online to dol.gov/summerjobs.

The spokespeopls in the conference call emphasized that these are more than just summer jobs to be taken and forgotten; the federal government hopes they will help yound adults gain new skills as well as build potential careers within these corporations.

For instance, Rodney Moses of Research in Motion made it clear that the summer jobs are not about making copies and getting coffee.

“They will be working on design, and actually working to improve our products,” Moses said. “These young people represent a large portion of our customer base and hearing feedback from them is extremely beneficial to us.”

Stressing the impact summer jobs have in providing young people with knowledge of career options and required skills, Solis said summer employment is key in building a better American workforce.

According to Pitt’s Student Employment and Placement Assistance 2009-2010 internship report, of about 700 students surveyed, 64 percent interned over the summers of 2009 and 2010. The report did not state how many students had been working in other positions last summer.

The University will also hold a summer job fair next Wednesday from noon to 3 p.m. in the William Pitt Assembly Room, which will include more than 75 potential employers.

John Stumpf, CEO and president of Wells Fargo, said that this year his company will look for 1,000 college and M.B.A. students to fill positions over the summer.

“We really view this as a triple win,” Stumpf said. “It is a great way to discover new and young talent, as well as an opportunity for the students and team members of Wells Fargo to learn from each other. In addition to that, the country benefits by getting a stronger work force.”

Another common thread echoed by UPS and RIM was the idea that not only are these positions for the summer, but they are looking to grow careers as a result of these summer jobs.

Betty Amend, vice president of human resources at UPS, said that she started as a summer intern 27 years ago.s

“While the positions are only part time over the summer, we do have the intention of growing talent and helping people to build careers here well beyond a single summer,” Amend said.

The program is partnering with more than 3,000 one-stop centers, with the goal to expand to all 50 states.

Though the conference call participants could not state specifically which states were represented, they do have the commitments of 26 mayors, although the participants did not say which ones, and are looking for more.