Expanding from city hall to include the entire metro, Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ Hire KC Youth program will launch a summer pilot in June, aiming to cultivate more work-ready young people.
In collaboration with the KC Social Innovation Center and Full Employment Council, Hire KC Youth is branching out of the confines of city hall and will provide 16- to 24-year-olds with internship and job opportunities. Participating firms include UMB, KCP&L, BNIM Architects and other business, nonprofit and government organizations.
Kari Keefe, executive director of the KC Social Innovation Center, said that although she enjoyed working with Hire KC Youth last year, she is especially excited for the citywide summer pilot program.
“We’ve learned so much in the first year about how to scale this initiative,” Keefe said. “We know that when a young person is employed it’s one of the best social programs out there. This is a way for us to help deliver the workforce of the future.”
Selected applicants will begin their immersive internships or seasonal jobs on June 5, while another wave will begin June 12. Thus far, students have been clamoring at opportunities, Keefe said. With over 1,000 opportunities available, Hire KC Youth has received about 1,200 applicants. The program is currently facilitating the hiring process, matching young people to a suitable company.
Keefe said she was impressed with the scope of the applicants, as well as their diversity. She said about 65 percent of applicants were African American, 14 percent White, 11 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian.
They represent all areas of the Kansas City metro, she added.
“The majority of these kids are coming from areas that are generally underrepresented in the internship space,” Keefe said. “We want to provide access to all of these opportunities so that it is a more democratic process. … Internships are typically pretty coveted and tend to be underpublicized and just given to somebody you know. (These opportunities) need to be more accessible.”
To ensure accessibility, all internship opportunities are paid positions. Keefe said that an open, democratic process is important to the initiative, which is why the mayor hosted a career fair in April to garner interests from young people of all backgrounds and ages.
The KC Social Innovation Center facilitates the hiring, onboarding and training process, Keefe said. In addition, they select young people from a centralized application process, fully manage the interns and then lease them out to the area organizations.
For the pilot program this summer, Keefe said they’ve hired teachers to assist the interns as they transition from a student to professional mindset.
“(Organizations) aren’t quite sure how to manage workflow with a young team member, and since they are not educators they are not quite sure what a young person is capable of doing,” Keefe said. “We’ve hired teachers to manage small cohorts of students and will work with them on a daily basis to comanage the initial onboarding and inspire productivity.”
Keefe said Hire KC Youth is providing more than just a social good — it’s also meeting a market need.
Hire KC Youth reports the area has a high number of young people, with the metro area ranked as the nation’s 12th-highest population per capita of those under the age of 18, according to data from the Kansas City Civic Council. That creates a significant challenge in Kansas City as more than 30,000 people ages 16 to 24 are neither employed nor enrolled in school.
She added the biggest challenge is educating and training these young people correctly so they can meet modern day industry needs.
“These problems are not solved in a vacuum,” Keefe said. “There is a market-driven demand from industries saying ‘We need qualified workers.’ We have to provide the right instruments to train young people.”
On Tuesday, Hire KC Youth announced it was awarded a $55,000 grant from Bank of America. The money will help Hire KC Youth and the city onboard nonprofits that would otherwise lack the capacity to bring an intern into their organization.
Mayor Sly James said he’s thrilled to receive the grant, adding that the support of Bank of America represents the core principles of Hire KC Youth.
“Hire KC Youth is about public-private investment in the next generation of Kansas City’s workforce and community,” James said in a release. “Their gift furthers our ability to provide next generation training and education that prepares people for the workforce. “Most importantly, it means more Kansas City kids will have new opportunities to work with adults who are committed to their success.”
Keefe said that the grant is heartening because it is no longer enough for programs like Hire KC Youth to be funded by the government, educators and philanthropists. Industries and organizations — like Bank of America — must also step up, she said.
The Hire KC Youth’s summer program will culminate in an intern showcase this Fall, which Keefe said she hopes will provide a window for young people and industries, highlighting the workplace experiences that are available.
Founded in 2016, the KC Social Innovation Center is a nonprofit born out of Think Big Partners. Its mission is to create equal opportunity and human potential, with a focus on innovation, technology and education.