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updated: 10/15/2020 11:52 AM

Why supporting employment opportunities for teens is important

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  • Kate Kiriakou

    Kate Kiriakou

By Kate Kiriakou
Genesys Works

For more than 10 years companies like Accenture, AT&T, Deloitte, CIBC and TransUnion have hired Genesys Works interns to increase staff productivity and improve employee engagement.

It's time to add some suburban-based businesses to this list.

Each year companies see the value in bringing on a trained high school intern. Last year Skender Construction learned just how productive a partnership with Genesys Works and intern Kevin Bonilla could be.

Bonilla, a high school senior from Chicago's West Side, was accepted by Genesys Works last year. The nonprofit organization provides intensive professional and technical skills training to promising students and then places them in a yearlong paid corporate internship.

Bonilla successfully underwent an eight-week summer training program at Genesys Works. He was then placed in a part-time job at corporate program partner Skender while finishing high school.

Early in his internship at Skender, Bonilla attended a meeting with the technology and human resources teams. They wanted to simplify the workflow process for new hires. Bonilla thought about the problem and within hours produced a prototype that met 90% of the requirements.

Bonilla refined the tool over the next week, presented his solution and nailed it. The company was so impressed that it offered to pay his college costs while keeping him on as an employee.

"Our partnership model produces success," said Kim Day, executive director of Genesys Works Chicago, "We train highly motivated students who provide a reliable pipeline of diverse talent for local companies."

There is clear demand from students who want to participate in this program. These students are eager to learn in-demand skills and gain real-world experience before they complete high school. Last spring 800 students applied for only 150 spots in the summer training class.

"We need more corporate partners," Day said. "We would love to add companies based in the suburban areas to give our students that sort of experience and exposure as well.

"Although our students are based in the city, many of them are more than capable of working remotely, especially during this current era where most companies are having employees work from home."

The program is designed to meet the growing needs of the Chicagoland business community. Rising high school seniors receive more than 160 hours of technical and professional skills training. The Chicago program offers three training tracks in accounting, information technology and computer science.

Genesys Works handles the student recruitment, screening, training, hiring, wages and taxes, and then invoices companies for the services provided.

The interns arrive at their corporate jobs ready to work, freeing others for more complex tasks.

The program offers other benefits, such as mentorship roles for full-time employees and an opportunity to impact social change. The 2020-21 cohort of young professionals is 97.3% students of color (43% Black and 45% Latino), 58% identify as women and 87% were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

The partnership between Genesys Works and Chicagoland companies also makes a real impact on the city's South and West sides, where most interns live. Interns earn an average of $12,000 during their senior year. The program paid out $3.3 million in wages last year -- money invested in underserved neighborhoods. In the previous 10 years the wages earned by Genesys Works interns represent $10.8 million into the hands of families on the South and West sides of Chicago.

Genesys Works follows the interns for six years after high school graduation, providing support. In the Class of 2020, 94% enrolled in college, and overall, Genesys Works alumni graduate at a rate of 3½ times their peers.

"The program benefits everyone," Day said. "The potential is enormous."