Intern Lilliana Barron (right) stands with other SA Works interns to be recognized by applause.
Intern Lilliana Barron (right) stands with other SA Works interns recognized at a celebration of the city-wide program. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Sidney Abeyta is packing and preparing for her first semester at Texas Tech University this fall. Along with all the usual things for a college dorm room, Sidney also is taking new career skills she can apply at a part-time job she’s already lined up in Lubbock.

“I have just learned so much in professionalism and execution and how an office setting works,” she said of her SA Works internships. “It really helped me jump-start my résumé and career skills. The whole goal of [my internship] is to have a career and skills so as not to get stuck in that unemployment pool.”

On Thursday, the Reagan High School graduate and about 120 others like her were guests at a celebration of the SA Works Summer Internship Program at La Villita Assembly Hall. By her side were her employers, SA2020 and Firstmark Credit Union, two of the 34 public, private, and nonprofit entities that hired, mentored, and paid area high school seniors and recent graduates this summer.

The SA Works Summer Internship Program is celebrated at La Villita Assembly Hall.
The SA Works Summer Internship Program is celebrated at La Villita Assembly Hall. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

In a prerecorded speech, Mayor Ron Nirenberg congratulated the interns, saying they are the keys to the success of San Antonio’s workforce and the city’s economic viability. More than 70 students interned at the City of San Antonio this summer. One of those, Diego Cura, worked in the Mayor’s office; Nirenberg called him a “rock star.”

County Judge Nelson Wolff thanked the 20 interns who worked in 17 departments at Bexar County.

“We learned from them, and they learned from us,” he said in a prerecorded message in which he also challenged the local business community to double the number of interns for next year.

The program has grown since its inception two years ago. This summer, the program recruited 19 additional partnering entities, employing 760 students in internships. In addition to the City and Bexar County, CPS Energy, Holt CAT, Toyota Texas, Precision Group, H-E-B, Alamo Academies, and the Family Service Association hosted interns and provided them with learning experiences.

SA Works is an industry-led workforce organization that seeks to reduce the skills gap in target industries through education and training programs, and create a robust workforce pipeline. The organization is led by Romanita Matta-Barrera, named executive director a year ago.

In addition to the summer internship program, SA Works also oversees a job shadow program and teacher externships, and partners with Upgrade, a program that helps adults with some college attainment complete a degree or certificate program. In March 2016, SA Works integrated with the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation to further encourage collaboration and positive outcomes.

The Texas Economic Council awarded SA Works with a 2017 Workforce Excellence Award in June. The award recognizes exceptional contributions by a Texas community or region that has implemented successful workforce initiatives.

SA Works Co-Chair David Crouch, vice president of administration and production control at Toyota Texas, said his company has hired 82 summer interns over the last six years. “And I can tell you for a fact we learned as much from them as they learned from us, and many of those interns are now full-time Toyota employees,” he said.

“We really want to make these types of experiences very meaningful for the students and for the employers. Every summer we received 10 to 12 kids. But when they left, they were young adults.”

Victoria Davis, a graduate of the Frank L. Madla Early College High School, began her summer in the CPS Energy mailroom and eventually earned a spot in the project management division. “The employees treated me as an equal and valued my opinion,” she said. “The more I was exposed to, the more I wanted to know. With hard work and determination, anyone can move from the mailroom to the executive suite.”

Davis applied for and won the opportunity to speak at the SA Works event. She was joined at the podium by Harlandale graduate Stephany Garcia, who interned at SA Works, and Judson Early College Academy graduate Alicia Ford, who worked at Grok Interactive.

Ford described a few of the things she didn’t know before her internship experience, including that “bosses aren’t evil,” and managing money is hard.

“We are a small group of software developers here in San Antonio,” said Ford’s supervisor Jason Straughan, Grok Interactive and Codeup co-founder. “When you’re bringing on someone who is younger and very excited about being at work, it’s contagious. And when the other people in your office are feeding off of that, it makes us remember why we entered the careers that we did.”

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...