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St. Louis Is Investing More Than $6 Million To Spur Youth Employment Amid Pandemic Recovery

Susan E. Bennet
©2017 Ooh St. Lou Studios
STL Youth Jobs participants learn on-the-job skills at a grocery store during a summer job placement program in 2017. The program's enrollment is up again after dipping during the pandemic as many businesses closed their doors.

As businesses shuttered and laid off workers last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people had a hard time finding opportunities for on-the-job training.

“A lot of people I know resorted to doing things like cutting grass — doing any little jobs they can do to make some sort of income. It was definitely a struggle,” said 19-year-old Shaun Isom, a resident of the northside Goodfellow neighborhood in St. Louis.

Last summer, nationwide teen employment hit its lowest point since the Great Recession, according to a recent analysis of federal data by the Pew Research Center. But as the economy begins to reopen, opportunities for young people are starting to bounce back in St. Louis.

Youth job training programs like STL Youth Jobs are helping connect young people looking to grow their skills with businesses that need to quickly staff up.

Executive Director Hillary Frye said the program is on track to match up to 700 young people with jobs this summer. That’s still down from pre-pandemic levels, but up from the 480 mostly online job training opportunities the program provided last year.

“Businesses that are experiencing significant shortages, what we’re trying to convey to them is an easy, effective way to get them some short-term relief,” she said.

It’s Isom’s third summer working with STL Youth Jobs. Last year, he was able to earn a stipend by completing virtual skills training workshops focused on soft skills, such as how to effectively communicate, work on a team and interact with a manager.

Isom said he’s glad to be back working on a job site this summer, this time at a real estate firm. He’s a freshman at Missouri Baptist University, and he’s hoping to pursue a career in the field.

St. Louis city officials are doubling down on support for programs like STL Youth Jobs to help provide job training year-round for youth from underserved communities.

Mayor Tishaura Jones recently announced her plan to allocate $5 million of federal pandemic relief funds to youth jobs programs. The St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment also recently secured $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to support a pre-apprenticeship program for young people in north St. Louis neighborhoods with high unemployment rates. That program is expected to launch in the fall.

Greg Laposa, director of workforce development for St. Louis County, said youth employment programs are a critical component to economic recovery.

“Youth employment has always been important to a local economy,” he said. “And our society and our community is healthier when young people have opportunities to earn an income, to gain that valuable work experience.”

He said job centers in St. Louis County are currently seeing nearly twice as many youth people seek out training and employment resources.

But Laposa said the programs need more funding to help young people gain the skills they need to succeed. With a reduction in federal funding over the last year, he said job centers may need to look for more supplemental resources and funding, perhaps through federal pandemic relief.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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