STL Youth Jobs Bridging the Workforce Divide

There’s a gulf between youth ready to work and employers ready to hire skilled workers, but it’s getting smaller thanks to STL Youth Jobs. Last year, the organization engaged about 1,000 youth in job coaching, meaningful, paid work-based experience and other training to help prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.

“The pandemic forced people to pay attention to the job market and workforce development, but employers have been searching for qualified, skilled candidates long before then,” says Hillary Frey, Executive Director of STL Youth Jobs. The organization’s philosophy, bore out by statistics, she says, is that focusing on youth employment to bridge this divide also has the power to transform a number of indicators that dramatically affect the future of the region, including decreased youth violence, higher graduation rates, and higher earnings in adulthood that translate into more revenue for the community.

STL Youth Jobs began in 2013 as a pilot program spearheaded by the St. Louis City Mayor’s office, Incarnate Word Foundation, MERS Goodwill and a number of other stakeholders, which revealed enormous potential. “The demand among employers was huge and we had 1,000 youth apply for jobs,” says Frey. “We knew we wanted to build something for the long haul.” In 2020, STL Youth Jobs became its own nonprofit, enabling it to ramp up fundraising efforts.

YouthBridge assisted STL Youth Jobs with its goals around revenue growth and fund diversification through a Capacity Building grant in 2022. “It’s so nice to have someone willing to invest in development who shares your goal for sustainable growth,” says Frey. The funding helped them engage Let’s Build Hope, she says, a fundraising consulting team who is assisting them in creating annual fund development strategies. “YouthBridge also has been transparent in who they are working with and those donors that could align with our mission.”

The mission, she says, is not just about bridging the skills gap but also engaging “disconnected youth” in high priority communities – those historically underserved with high rates of youth unemployment, poverty and juvenile crime, and low graduation rates. STL Youth Jobs opens up applications for youth, ages 14-24, to participate in the program during the summer months and/or the last semester of their senior year. Each youth is assigned a Job Coach, who completes a career assessment to identify their interests, dreams and areas where they have the greatest potential. They then participate in a series of trainings and skill-building workshops before being placed in a paid position with an employer partner of STL Youth Jobs, all the while receiving ongoing support from their Job Coach.

“We make sure they have the basics needed for success in the workplace, such as financial literacy and professionalism, while the work sites provide them job specific training – it’s a great partnership,” says Frey. The organization needs more businesses who have the capacity to work with and mentor young people, she says, adding that STL Youth Jobs monitors the progress of every youth in the program and even assists with transportation, clothing or other areas that could be an obstacle. “We’re there every step to make sure the experience for both employer and employee is successful.”

In its 10 years, STL Youth Jobs has many successes to talk about, but one in particular stands out for Frey. “We had a young man in the program, Emmanuel, who was interested in funeral services. It wasn’t an ordinary request, so we searched and found a partner funeral home near him to work with,” she says. “He ended up working there every summer while he earning his degree in mortuary science. Now, he is planning to open his own funeral home. It’s really about letting their dreams drive the process.”