Despite tough job market, Minneapolis program matches teens with opportunities

Anel Braziel worked as a teacher’s assistant in Kaleidoscope Place
Anel Braziel worked as a teacher’s assistant in Kaleidoscope Place in Minneapolis, where she once went to school.
Photo By: Jennah Benalshaikh
Tammy Dickinson directs the Step-Up teen jobs program for Minneapolis.
Tammy Dickinson directs the Step-Up teen jobs program in Minneapolis.
Photo By: Jennah Benalshaikh
Student art at Kaleidoscope Place in Minneapolis.
Student art is displayed at Kaleidoscope Place in Minneapolis.
Photo By: Jennah Benalshaikh
“After being a teacher’s assistant for so long, maybe I can become a actual teacher here.”

To most teenagers, being surrounded by 20 or more children would be something to avoid. To Anel Braziel, it’s an opportunity.

During the summer, Braziel worked as a teacher’s assistant in Kaleidoscope Place in Minneapolis, helping students with math and reading in an eight-week program called Summer Kids.

“I have to do activities with the kids,” Braziel said. “We do like structured math and reading and other things like that.“

Braziel, 15, lives in Minneapolis with her mother. She got her job through a summer job program called Step-Up Achieve, operated by the city of Minneapolis.

Tammy Dickinson, director of Step-Up for the city, described it as an internship program for 14-21 year-olds.

“We typically serve youths who are least connected to the work force, whether that is that they’re from low-income families or they have a risk factor or some other barrier that would make it challenging to graduate,” Dickinson said.

Since 2000, the number of 16- to 19-years-olds with paid jobs dropped to the lowest level since World War II, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency that studies work trends and unemployment.

USA Today reported that more than 44 percent of U.S. teens who wanted summer jobs wouldn’t get them or would be working fewer hours than they wanted.

In August, the national unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 24.6 percent compared to 8.1 percent overall.

Step-Up’s main goal is get low-income kids into the work force by providing them with direct experience that employers are seeking.

“It came out of programming to get young people job-readiness skills, primarily the soft skills,” Dickinson said. “We keep hearing over and over from employers that they can train on the hard skills.”

Soft skills include knowing how to dress, whether it’s for the corporate world or the child-care world; how to problem-solve, including whom to go to for help and how to solve the problem; and communication skills. Hard skills are more job-specific, such as how to operate a cash register.

About 2,000 youth sign up for the program every year, and about 1,700 are placed with employers in the private sector. The other 300 find jobs with non-profit organizations.

Braziel was in the Kaleidoscope program as a young girl, and because Kaleidoscope was a partner with Step-Up, it seemed right to work at a place that she had enjoyed for years.

“I remember always being excited when I got to come here,” Braziel said. “It was like a home away from home.”

Step-Up partners with about 230 employers, Dickinson said.

“They typically fall in about six or eight categories: social work, working in government, as clerical support, and in schools,” she said. “We do have youth placed in the legal field and the medical field, finance industry, and typically those are going to be support positions.”

Ryan Kirk, advisor of Kaleidoscope Place, said the longtime partnership with Step-Up has fostered a strong feeder system of future employees.

“We have our 40 years of students,” Kirk said, pointing to a bulletin board filled with student pictures. “These are pictures going back all the way to the early 1970s. We have some pictures from several years ago of students who now work for us in the youth employment program.”

Kirk knows firsthand how valuable interns can be in the classroom.

“Somebody who is there regularly knows what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “We do have a lot of tough students with a lot of tough situations.

“We have a teacher assistant who was invaluable. She was out at another camp for two or three days, and we did as best as we could without her.”

Braziel said her job as a teacher’s assistant gives her experience in responsibility, but it also shows her what it would be like if she were to follow this career path.

“After being a teacher’s assistant for so long, maybe I can become a actual teacher here,” she said.