By Angela Davis

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Many say a summer job is a jumpstart to success. That’s why the U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is coming to St. Paul Friday.

He’s getting a look at a program that the city launched to help high school students get work experience. It’s called Right Track, a partnership between the city, the school district and businesses.

Companies provide paid-summer internships for six to 10 weeks to high school students selected to participate. The students undergo training to prepare them for work environments.

Carlita Heard is a junior at Central High School and already has experience as a traffic and bridge engineer. Last summer, she had an internship in the city’s public works department.

“They were just so excited that I was there because I was just so young and eager to learn. They were just always, “Hey, come to my cube space, let me talk to you for a second,'” Heard said. “They would just show me their outline to their bridges.”

Thirty-seven employers in St. Paul – including Ecolab, Travelers Insurance and Xcel Energy – have stepped up to offer 95 professional internships this summer.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says he’s excited about the program. Last year, it was a pilot program, but Coleman says the feedback from students and employers was very promising.

“We have a huge problem with youth unemployment. Over a third of our kids don’t have summer jobs, or any kind of employment opportunity,” Coleman said.

The mayor says early exposure to careers will provide students with new and marketable skills, and likely boost enthusiasm in education.

“The work that we do today to develop the future workforce is among our most important work, and so building that pipeline, getting kids into a situation where they can learn new skills and just basically kind of the rules of the workforce, are going to be critically important to the future,” he said.

Right Track is providing the students with Metro Transit passes so they can get to and from work. Carlita Heard is grateful the business community is giving teenagers a chance.

“As youth, we can take on and tackle those big tasks that are asked of us,” Heard said. “We’re capable of being in a professional environment, and doing the same thing as adults.”

When Labor Secretary Perez visits Friday, Heard will get to meet him and take part in a roundtable discussion about preparing young people for the workforce.
Mayor Coleman is giving him a tour of St. Paul College near downtown, where instructors provide IT training for the students in the program.

They’ve already selected their interns for this summer, but they are trying to spread the word about Right Track so that more students participate next year, and more companies step up to offer jobs.

The pay ranges between $7.25 and $13 an hour, depending on the type of work.

The professional internships are for high school juniors and seniors, but younger students can apply for other types of jobs.

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