With the number of COVID-19 vaccinations growing and the California economy reopening this month, Los Angeles County is offering 10,000 jobs to young people too often left behind during the summer months — those who are homeless, in foster care or struggling to survive in low-income and marginalized communities.
The county’s Youth@Work program provides vulnerable youth ages 14 to 24 with their first paid work experience, and like the rest of society, it has had to readjust during the pandemic. Over the past 15 months, hundreds of young people have been matched with jobs online at government agencies, nonprofits and private companies, receiving vital work experience and career skills remotely.
In some instances during the pandemic, Youth@Work participants have also served their communities in person, assembling personal protective equipment, aiding food distribution and helping with socially distanced park programs.
In a virtual launch of Youth@Work’s summer program on Wednesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis hailed 168 young people who had participated over the past nine months, working to assemble more than 100,000 face shields distributed to local hospitals and social workers.
“I’m very proud of the Youth@Work participants who stepped up this past year to help our community struggling through the pandemic,” said Solis, who served as U.S. secretary of labor in the Obama administration. “You have literally saved lives and we want to thank you so much — felicidades.”
In April, Los Angeles County recorded one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at 11%. That number is even higher for youth, at almost 16%, according to an estimate from researchers at Mathematica. Even as the state has added thousands of jobs back into the economy over the past few months, sectors like hospitality and tourism — industries that typically employ a high proportion of young workers — have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
In the fiscal year spanning 2019 and 2020, Youth@Work provided about 20,000 youth with 120 hours of employment and career preparation, such as learning how to complete a resume. With jobs that pay $15 an hour, the program prioritizes young people who are often disconnected from work and careers, including current and former foster youth, young people who have been involved with the justice system and those who have experienced homelessness.
Youth@Work is a key plank of L.A. County’s effort to steer these young people toward a safe and productive future. Several county departments are involved with the effort to provide 100 hours of paid work experience to systems-involved youth by age 16 and 300 hours of paid work experience by age 18. The Youth@Work program helped the initiative by employing 1,766 foster youth and 1,448 young people who had been in the justice system.
The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders forced the county to develop an alternative for many young people who were not able to show up at a worksite. Instead, the L.A. County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services developed Career EDGE, a virtual platform that allowed youth to participate in career-related exercises and activities entirely from their laptops or mobile devices.
Otto Solórzano, deputy director of the workforce agency, said the software enabled young people to gain skills during the pandemic that have helped make them more marketable for employment.
And with California facing a June 15 deadline to open up its economy, Solórzano said many more Youth@Work jobs will be held in-person this summer, including about 500 at county parks.
Keven Palacios, a Youth@Work participant from Hollywood, said his job was a great opportunity for an aspiring politician. While working in Supervisor Solis’ field office earlier this year, Palacios, 23, witnessed firsthand how the lawmaker’s staff engaged with the community, offering services and answering questions during the most stressful periods of the pandemic.
“After participating at several of the Hilda Solis vaccination sites,” Palacios said at the virtual press event Wednesday, “I’ve come to realize how much of a difference I can make.” Young people aged 14 to 24 who live in Los Angeles County are encouraged to sign up for Youth@Work jobs at https://workforce.lacounty.gov/youthatwork.