Youth gain job experience thanks to City mentors

Finding a job is rarely easy. For those without work experience or a college degree, it can by nearly impossible to get hired in a competitive market.

In the City of San Diego, there are approximately 13,000 young people, ages 16 to 24, in low-to-moderate income households who are not currently working or enrolled in school. The term used to describe this demographic is “opportunity youth” and a new program offered by the City aims to give these youth a boost into the job market.

“They might have some barriers in terms of transportation, education, housing, possibly behavioral health issues, those challenges have led to them having a hard time getting into the work force, so we’re offering a little bridge to them,” said Leslie McNabb, Internship and Work Readiness Program Coordinator for the City’s Human Resources Department.

That bridge comes in the form of a mentorship program, a unique opportunity that pairs youth with City employees who volunteer as mentors. The youth — called “mentees” — can work up to eight hours per week and earn $12 per hour. A federal grant and collaboration with the San Diego Workforce Partnership provides funding for the program through 2019.

Providing opportunity

“I’m hoping to get not only work experience but I also kind of want to get more knowledge about how the workplace works because I’ve never [been employed] professionally somewhere,” said Kristen Pepper, a recent high school graduate who was accepted into the mentorship program.

Pepper was one of 50 new mentees who arrived at the Logan Heights Library for a group interview. During this process, mentees are matched with City employees from several departments including Public Utilities, Park and Recreation, the City Attorney’s Office and San Diego Fire-Rescue.

“We are offering to the mentees a glimpse at what the City does, with so many departments and so many offices, you can really find a career anywhere and be happy and be able to move to around,” said McNabb.

Demand for job training

Offered on a quarterly basis, the mentorship program received more than 750 applications for the Fall 2017 session. In addition to job skills, mentees are learning essential skills like communication, dependability and how to perform well in a job interview.

“I’m just thankful that I have this opportunity, because I don’t know where I would be right now if I hadn’t had this,” said Pepper. “It’s hard to get a job without work experience, so I’m really glad that I got this, because hopefully this will be my permanent job or I can use this to help me get jobs in the future.”

To learn more about work readiness opportunities in the City of San Diego, visit