Urban Alliance: Connecting Youth of Color With Internship Opportunities

Posted October 14, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Along with sharp­en­ing tech­ni­cal skills, intern­ships enable stu­dents to devel­op pro­fes­sion­al net­works and impor­tant soft skills like time man­age­ment and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. But youth of col­or often don’t have access to these valu­able oppor­tu­ni­ties. By plac­ing low-income high school seniors of col­or in paid intern­ships, Urban Alliance pro­vides a path for teens to attain qual­i­ty jobs in the future. With sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Urban Alliance has suc­cess­ful­ly tran­si­tioned its High School Intern­ship Pro­gram— which was found effec­tive by a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al — to a vir­tu­al for­mat dur­ing the pandemic.

Since 1996, Urban Alliance has worked with over 500 busi­ness­es and 100 schools to pro­vide more than 5,700 young peo­ple with paid intern­ships and more than 22,000 oth­ers with pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment train­ing. Each fall, Urban Alliance pairs high school seniors of col­or from Bal­ti­more, Chica­go, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., north­ern Vir­ginia, and Detroit with one of over 200 part­ner orga­ni­za­tions, rang­ing from For­tune 500 com­pa­nies to hotels to gov­ern­ment agen­cies. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, stu­dents com­plete six weeks of job skills train­ing with Urban Alliance before begin­ning their paid, part-time intern­ships; then, in the sum­mer after high school grad­u­a­tion, they tran­si­tion to full-time work.

In Urban Alliance’s train­ing pro­gram, stu­dents learn work­place fun­da­men­tals that their more afflu­ent peers often take for grant­ed, like pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion and team­work. Dur­ing the intern­ships, stu­dents work close­ly with their work­place super­vi­sor (“men­tor”) and their Urban Alliance pro­gram coor­di­na­tor to ensure they are meet­ing pro­gram goals.

What sets the Urban Alliance High School Intern­ship pro­gram apart? Nine­ty-nine per­cent of par­tic­i­pants are stu­dents of col­or, and most have a grade point aver­age that falls between 2.0 and 3.0. Instead of focus­ing on high-achiev­ing stu­dents as many advance­ment pro­grams do, Urban Alliance serves mid-achiev­ing stu­dents who often grad­u­ate high school with­out a job or plans to attend col­lege despite their poten­tial. By recruit­ing this group of stu­dents for their intern­ship pro­gram, Urban Alliance pre­vents post-high school disconnection.

We know that post-sec­ondary attain­ment and suc­cess is a key part of build­ing a brighter future, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Black and brown stu­dents,” says Ayo Atter­ber­ry, senior asso­ciate in the Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group at the Casey Foun­da­tion, who man­ages the Urban Alliance grant. Urban Alliance helps cre­ate a bridge for these stu­dents to have access to social mobil­i­ty and job oppor­tu­ni­ties, which paves the way for bet­ter eco­nom­ic outcomes.”

Piv­ot­ing dur­ing the COVID-19 pandemic

The pan­dem­ic forced Urban Alliance to adapt to a new, remote envi­ron­ment — and over­come sev­er­al obsta­cles. Many of Urban Alliance’s low-income stu­dents share devices with oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers who also have to work or attend school from home, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for them to intern full time. At the same time, stu­dents need pay­checks to sup­port their fam­i­lies, espe­cial­ly in house­holds that are strug­gling finan­cial­ly due to the pan­dem­ic. Eighty per­cent of Urban Alliance interns con­tribute a por­tion of their pay­check to house­hold expenses.

To address these hur­dles, Urban Alliance quick­ly found ways to get lap­tops to stu­dents in need. Instead of week­ly, in-per­son stu­dent train­ings, Urban Alliance held vir­tu­al work­shops and con­vert­ed its annu­al pub­lic speak­ing com­pe­ti­tion into a vir­tu­al inter­view chal­lenge. Even amid the pan­dem­ic, 470 stu­dents grad­u­at­ed from the pro­gram this year — and Urban Alliance con­tin­ues rela­tion­ships with almost all of its partners.

This fall, Urban Alliance will extend the pre-intern­ship train­ing pro­gram through Decem­ber to fur­ther pre­pare stu­dents for remote and hybrid intern­ships begin­ning in Jan­u­ary. For instance, the updat­ed pro­gram will now include dig­i­tal lit­er­a­cy top­ics, includ­ing best prac­tices for tele­con­fer­enc­ing plat­forms and remote communication.

An evi­dence-based pro­gram focused on often ignored but impor­tant skills

In a typ­i­cal year, Urban Alliance sees sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess. Nine­ty per­cent of Urban Alliance’s stu­dents are accept­ed into col­lege, 80 per­cent enroll and 80 per­cent per­sist into their sopho­more year.

The intern­ship pro­gram isn’t just about col­lege readi­ness. It’s also meant to prime stu­dents with the soft skills nec­es­sary to thrive in the work­place, like adapt­abil­i­ty, resilience and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. After com­plet­ing the Urban Alliance pro­gram, stu­dents retain their com­fort with these skills much longer than their peers. Nine­ty-six per­cent of interns felt more at ease walk­ing into a pro­fes­sion­al office space after com­plet­ing the pro­gram, and 88 per­cent were bet­ter at adapt­ing to new circumstances.

A well-designed intern­ship is an excel­lent vehi­cle for young peo­ple to build their social and emo­tion­al learn­ing (SEL) skills,” says Eshau­na Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance. Research shows that if you have rep­e­ti­tion, reflec­tion and the abil­i­ty to prac­tice that you’re going to be able to pick up those SEL skills, which are foun­da­tion­al to hav­ing the right set of pro­fes­sion­al com­pe­ten­cies to get and keep a job.”

Who Will Suc­ceed In Tomorrow’s Job Mar­ket?, a brief pub­lished by Urban Alliance and fund­ed by the Casey Foun­da­tion, dis­cuss­es the impor­tance of these soft skills, which employ­ers often incor­rect­ly assume stu­dents have mastered.

We come at this from a belief that all young peo­ple — no mat­ter their race, eth­nic­i­ty, or back­ground — real­ly deserve equal access to the skills train­ing, paid work expe­ri­ence and pro­fes­sion­al net­works that are need­ed to achieve eco­nom­ic self-suf­fi­cien­cy,” says Smith. We real­ly try to lis­ten to stu­dents and per­form accordingly.”

Learn about a Casey grantee con­nect­ing youth in the jus­tice sys­tem with work opportunities

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