Against the odds: St. Louis teens get summer jobs, mentors | St. Louis Public Radio

Against the odds: St. Louis teens get summer jobs, mentors

Jun 15, 2018

At Beyond Sweet, an ice cream and snack shop in the Delmar Loop, two teens are practicing the art of of building mountain peaks of whipped cream.

For now, they’re practicing on pieces of paper, but soon they’ll move onto topping real sundaes and shakes for customers.

“I scoop ice cream, I cook food, I take orders, basically everything,” said Ahmanie Allen, 18, who is back for a second summer at Beyond Sweet. With experience under her belt, she’s helping train a new crop of first-time workers.

The odds of getting such a sweet summer job are not easy for teenagers. According to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Labor, the 16- to 19-year-old segment of the population has one of the highest unemployment rates — 12.8 percent.

“It's still a very tough market for youth relative to older people who have a deeper skill set,” explained Charles Gascon, a regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

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Ten teenagers are working at the Beyond Sweet shop this summer through a program called STL Youth Jobs. The nonprofit organization recruits young job seekers from the most underserved and distressed neighborhoods in St. Louis where youth unemployment averages 17 percent and can be as high as 37 percent.

STL Youth Jobs Executive Director Hillary Frey says it costs about $2,500 to support one summer job opportunity.

“That cost includes the subsidized wages that support the youth; pre-job training; job placement; a job coach who serves as a mentor through the duration of the program; and they're also getting connected to a bank account and financial literacy supports related to that account.”

STL Youth Jobs received 2,000 applications last year for 640 job openings and reports similar demand this summer for 700 positions.

Uraiesha Shelton learns how to make ice cream shakes on her first day of work at Beyond Sweet on Delmar Boulevard.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

More than scooping ice cream

Samika Randle, 24, knows first-hand the importance of summer jobs. She’s worked every summer since she turned 16. This summer she is the manager of Beyond Sweet with a crew of 10 teenagers under her supervision.

Randle worked with one of her summer mentors to create the 2-year-old sweet shop. Now that she’s in the role of mentor, Randle says she’s ready to show her younger employees how to work and the importance of customer service. ”We like to see young people do good, so we get them into the program every summer.”

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By partnering with an array of companies and nonprofits, STL Youth Jobs aims to provide a meaningful work experience by pairing job seekers with a business that interests them.

For many youth this is their first job. They are paid $9 an hour and expected to work 160 hours over eight weeks. Frey says summer job opportunities range from camp counselor to hospital pharmacy tech.

“We're also trying to mirror the labor market and have jobs that are in high-demand fields that have more opportunity beyond just the summer,” she said.

Developing the next generation of workers as more baby boomers retire is prompting area businesses to take a more proactive approach to workforce development, according to economist Charles Gascon. He sees this as one of the positive trends in the labor market.

“Many firms now are looking for ways to partner with schools and technical programs as a way to start to build that pipeline up of employment through internships and summer jobs,” he said. “So it's definitely becoming more and more of a way for businesses to identify talent and bring them on board.”

At Beyond Sweet, Randle anticipates sales to rise with the temperature this summer and said she may hire more employees if her current staff of 14 can’t handle the crowds. That could be good news for more teens and young adults looking for a summer job.