Call them Millennials, or call them the internet generation. However you choose to label San Antonio’s youth, they are the future of all aspects of our society. It is, therefore, crucial to prepare them for a successful trajectory. SA Works aims to do just that.
The nonprofit organization, focused on building a stronger workforce pipeline through public-private partnerships, recently launched its annual summer jobs initiative for high school students. SA Works’ efforts have not only earned it the Texas Economic Council’s 2017 Workforce Excellence Award, but also made employers aware that the city’s youth can fill many of San Antonio’s growing workforce needs.
SA Works Program Director Shauna Goodman said recruiting employers was difficult at first.
“Employers are used to having college interns,” she said. “Getting them to understand the value of a high school intern was a bit of a challenge.”
It was a challenge that the program overcame.
Established in 2015, SA Works has experienced considerable growth, enlisting more employers and reaching more students each year. Last year, SA Works said it recruited 18 companies and employed a total of 641 students. This summer, the program boasts an additional 19 partnering entities and 760 students in internships. Bexar County, H-E-B, Alamo Academies, and the Family Services Association are just a few of the employers that host high school interns and provide them with learning experiences.
In March 2016, SA Works integrated with the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation to further encourage collaboration and positive outcomes.
With each student employed and each organization reached, there comes a unique story of growth and maturation, both for interns and employers.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) partnered with SA Works on the County’s first internship program in 2015. While attending an SA Works luncheon, he saw an opportunity to create a great legacy.
“I leaned over to [Bexar County Executive Director] David Marquez and Judge Wolff and I said, ‘Are we doing an internship program at Bexar County?’ They both said no, so I began to lobby my colleagues and the rest is history,” he recalled.
Bexar County’s internship program with SA Works has made an impact on many local teens. Nicole DeLuna, who will be a senior at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy this fall, is a full-time intern for Calvert. She first started her internship with Bexar County during last year’s SA Works initiative and has been volunteering at the commissioner’s office periodically during the school year.
“I have matured in a sense that I am able to be more independent with the work that is assigned to me,” she said while sitting at her desk on the 10th floor of the County offices in the Paul Elizondo Tower. The experience she gained during last year’s internship has made working in Calvert’s office much easier this summer, she added.
In her first year as an intern with Bexar County, DeLuna said she struggled with making important phone calls.
“Because I am a product of my generation, I am used to communicating through texts,” she said. “I was faced with [making calls to] a list of older constituents, and it intimidated me.”
Her internship taught her professional phone etiquette, a skill that will help her in future jobs. This year, DeLuna is working on improving her time management skills.
“I need to learn how to pace myself and prioritize,” she said, explaining that she often rushes through her tasks.
Calvert commended DeLuna’s growth throughout her employment with him.
“She has grown in confidence which has enabled her to achieve great things despite powerful obstacles,” he said. “She has proactively worked on projects from start to finish, learned new skills, including producing an email newsletter, and sharpened her computer skills. Last but not least, she now has a business and political ally in me as a reference that she can use to open doors in the future.”
DeLuna is grateful for the opportunity offered to her through SA Works and the Bexar County Internship program. As one of hundreds of young people exploring the workforce environment and developing essential skills, a brighter future is becoming more tangible.
Calvert sees an early introduction to the workforce as a game-changing advantage for San Antonio’s youth.
“I started working [at a young age]. I was always able to use that to get a better job because I started working so much earlier than my peers,” Calvert said. “I actually really believe part of the reason I am the youngest and first African-American County Commissioner goes back to getting so far ahead in the work place.”