Secretary of Labor Calls on Corporate America to Create Summer Youth Jobs

Dorothy Rowley | 4/21/2011, 1:23 a.m.
During an April 6 teleconference in which reporters participated, Rhonda Stickley, center, senior director for talent acquisition for Providence Health Systems, talks about the growth of health care jobs and the importance of bringing in young people for nonprofit hospitals. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor  

Last July, the national unemployment rate for young people ages 16 to 24, hovered at 19.1 percent - the lowest since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the percentage nearly doubled for unemployed African-American youth, whose rate that same month peaked at 33.4 percent.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis wants to help reduce those numbers this year, but given the tight economy, her agency has lacked funding.

As a result, in kicking off her "Summer Jobs USA: Make the Commitment" initiative, Solis has turned to corporate America for help.

"At this time we do not have this funding, and we started talking to these companies for precisely that reason,"

Solis, a former Southern California congresswoman, told reporters during an April 6 teleconference that was held in Houston.

Joined by officials from several mega companies that included Wells Fargo, UPS and Qwest Communications, Solis said the situation will be worse this year with the depletion of federal funds that would have assisted municipalities underwrite a variety of positions. The allocations would have earmarked money for jobs and internships related to wildlife refuges along with lifeguard positions and recreational opportunities.

However, the previously mentioned firms -- in addition to others like Marriott Golf, the City of Boston and the District of Columbia-based U. S. Department of the Interior -- have committed to collectively creating and publicizing 100,000 jobs aimed at teenagers and college students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Betty Amend, a UPS vice president for human resources, said the company is poised to hire 1,500 youth in summer jobs at about 71 locations across the country.

"Our jobs are primarily part-time entry level jobs and we have a very strong promotion from within policy," Amend said. "The majority of folks we do hire are between the ages of 18 and 24."

Amend also said that UPS not only intends to hire young people, but to keep them on the payroll beyond the summer.

"Perhaps they will stay on with us and grow their careers through UPS and the different business units we have around the world," said Amend, who added that she began her career at UPS 27 years ago as a summer hire.

"Years ago we were involved in a welfare-to-work initiative and many of those folks that we hired [then] are current members of our management team," Amend said.

"So we look at this as an opportunity to grow our talent and to provide opportunities for those folks in the communities that we serve."

John G. Stumpf, Wells Fargo CEO and president, said his company looks forward to hiring about 1,000 college and MBA students to work at banks across the country this summer. He said that hiring young people will prove to be a success in many ways.

"I call it a triple win," Stumpf said.

"First of all, our company wins. We learn so much from these young people. After all, they are our future customers; they see things differently in new ways that we now can appreciate. And most of all it is a win for the country. This country will be stronger if we get more people working. It's our most renewable resource."
But Bill Warren, executive director, DirectEmployers Association, said he wants to encourage as many companies as possible - regardless of their size -- to participate.

"What [matters most] is that we give these young people opportunities [that provide] them some work experience which can be very valuable both to the employer as well as to the young [people] they are employing," he said.

Solis has also announced a new Web site for her agency that helps youth find summer work: www.dol.gov/summerjobs.