Underserved youths in New York City hone workplace skills through paid internships and career development training.
New York City not-for-profit organization PENCIL connects local private and education sectors by creating opportunities for businesses to partner with and strengthen city public schools. One of its flagship programs, the PENCIL Fellows Program, provides on-the-job experiences for high school students—a large percentage of whom are underserved youths.
The program offers six-week, paid summer internships that prepare participants, called fellows, for their future careers. The highly selective program places an average of 110 to 120 students each year. Many participants are enrolled in a classroom-based simulated business curriculum designed by PENCIL's partner organization, Virtual Enterprises International, and must complete an internship as part of the elective courses requirements.
Following the internship, typically a dozen students continue to work for their employer's part-time while in school. Employer organizations have included HBO, Elizabeth Arden, JP Morgan Chase, and JetBlue.
Beyond the workplace exposure, students are required to complete written reflections and attend a series of workshops throughout the summer. Last summer's workshops were focused on building a professional brand and networking—how students could capitalize on the connections they made in their placements.
The written reflections help students to wrap their minds around what their future career paths will look like and how to map them out, says Gayle Villani, vice president of programs at PENCIL. Participants reflect on what they're doing, what they like and don't like, what their experiences mean for their future careers, and how to plan a path to get there.
Fellows program staff provide ongoing guidance to participants and their employers, called business mentors. The staff train fellows on vital skills, such as job etiquette and resume writing, and conduct workplace site visits to ensure students are having meaningful experiences.
The program includes a pre- and post-test to gauge participants' skills building and determine how the experience is affecting their futures based on their self-efficacy and what they're learning about their careers and the workplace, adds Villani. Last summer 100 percent of participants said the experience had an impact, and three-fourths said it was a significant impact.