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City helps youths find summer jobs

With the summer vacation season getting under way, San Diego civic and political leaders are mounting a last-minute drive to find more work for local high school and college students.

Thanks to an initiative by City Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, City Hall has recently pumped $200,000 into Connect2Careers San Diego, a public-private partnership designed to identify, coach and find placements for strong internship candidates from the ages of 16 to 21.

So far, the program has placed only 53 interns, but the hope is that within three weeks, businesses will hire at least 150 more interns out of a pool of close to 400 applicants. The long-range target is to use city funds and corporate contributions to rebuild a program that once helped find summer jobs for several thousand youths.

At a Youth Summer Jobs and Business Roundtable in the Civic Center on Thursday, Lightner was joined by Mayor Bob Filner and former Mayor Jerry Sanders, who heads the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and encouraged businesses to hire more interns.

“This is a win, win, win, win, if we can do it,” Filner said. “Obviously, it gives companies more employees. It keeps the kids learning about the real world and off the streets during the summer, [and keeps them] encouraged, stimulated and inspired to take their education further.”

Lightner said the program would “help us grow our local work force, expose young people to career tracks and help close our gap between jobs and skills here.”

Even in the best of times, young people typically have jobless rates higher than the overall average, typically between 10 percent and 15 percent, since the jobless rates include youths who are in college, taking a midyear break or helping out at home.

But when the Great Recession began, the jobless rate soared. During the summer of 2010, the national jobless rate for young people hit 19 percent. During that period, President Obama’s stimulus program funded youth training programs throughout the nation, including San Diego’s Hire a Youth, which employed 3,300 youths at its peak. But the federal stimulus program has long since expired, prompting Lightner to request money from the city’s general fund.

At the summit, business leaders extolled the virtues of using summer interns. Bonnie Burn, founder and principal of DiscCert, a small tech-oriented business, told of how interns helped her take her company nationwide, partly through sprucing up her Facebook and Linked-In presence.

“This isn’t baby-sitting,” said Phil Blair, who heads the local operations of Manpower Inc., which helps screen the Connect2Careers applicants. “These kids have worked hard to get where they are and we do a lot of interviewing and testing to make sure they get to the appropriate place.”

Lesley Basalve, a one-time intern at Scripps Research lab, said how challenging it was for a 10th-grader to be surrounded by scientists speaking a lingo that she had never heard. But after a week of adjustments, she said, she fell into the groove “and everything was go, go, go, go.”

After graduating from high school, she has since been hired there as a full-time employee, while she contemplates what type of scientific studies she wants to pursue in college.

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