Dylan White operates machinery during his summer internship with CPS Energy.
Dylan White operates machinery during his summer internship with CPS Energy in 2017. Credit: Courtesy / SA Works

Summer interns are “digital natives” hungry for opportunity and a fresh perspective, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Thursday as he challenged San Antonio employers to hire local students as interns this summer.

“You can create a pipeline of opportunity for our next generation of leaders,” he said in a video released by the City’s Department of Human Services, SA Works, and the Family Service Association. These agencies are joining forces to provide more young people with meaningful career experience.

In his call-to-action, recorded as a 30-second public service announcement, the mayor asked local employers to invest in the “thousands of students ready to get hands-on experience. … The success of San Antonio’s economy depends on our ability to nurture the next generation of leaders by providing them with opportunities to test-drive their careers.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg
Mayor Ron Nirenberg Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

SA Works is an industry-led strategic workforce development organization with a mission to align education providers with private-sector demand to promote economic mobility. The nonprofit Family Service Association was founded in 1903 to strengthen families in need. The City-sponsored Ambassador program launched in 2004 by then-Councilman Julián Castro.

Collaboration between the three agencies began in February and is meant to ensure that local employers have a one-stop shop for hiring and managing interns. For the students, it should also help create a “laddering opportunity,” said Romanita Matta-Barrera, executive director of SA Works.

Family Services works to place middle and early high school students, ages 14-17, in internships, and SA Works focuses on high school students, ages 16-20. The City Ambassador program hires college students, ages 18-22.

“We want to see young people realize you will always be learning, that education and internships are part of life,” Matta-Barrera said. “The City’s Ambassador’s program is part of that strategy of talent retention in our city. When they come home for the summer, we want to expose students to industries and jobs available here so we don’t have brain drain, so they realize there are opportunities that exist here.”

Family Service and the City fund those internship programs; the employer does not pay interns’ salaries unless they extend the student’s stay in the workplace. SA Works requests that employers pay interns at $1 over minimum wage.

Last summer, SA Works’ high school interns earned a total of $1.1 million in salaries, working an average of six to seven weeks during their vacations from school, to save money for college or contribute to their families’ households.

The program has been growing since its inception three years ago. Last summer, Family Service placed 269 interns and SA Works had 254. In addition to the City and Bexar County, CPS EnergyHolt CATToyota TexasPrecision Group, H-E-B, and others hosted interns and provided them with learning experiences.

As a result, more students are learning of the program and seeking opportunities, Matta-Barrera said. To place them, SA Works is targeting three industries in particular – manufacturing, information technology and health care.

“In manufacturing, the opportunity is really critical because we don’t find young people have any real understanding of it, or their perception of the industry could be completely off,” Matta-Barrera said. “So it’s an opportunity for the sector to showcase how that industry is evolving, how so much of it is tech-driven, and that they don’t all require four-year college degrees.”

In the information technology sector, she is looking for more opportunities to expose young women especially to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career fields and what it takes to be successful.

Health care has been one of the most difficult industries in which to place student interns, Matta-Barrera said, despite its being one of the largest in the city.

However, Methodist Healthcare Ministries (MHM), which is entering its third year with the program, will put 40 high school students to work as interns this summer. That’s up from 11 they hired last year.

“Hiring SA Works summer interns has been a rewarding experience, and something that every San Antonio employer can make work for their organization, including those in the health care industry,” stated Marc Raney, interim CEO of MHM and SA Works Advisory Council member.

“The growth in our internship program is a direct result of the highly capable students SA Works recruits to the program.”

To participate as an employer partner, go to SA Works or contact Matta-Barrera at the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. The deadline is April 25.

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.