St. Paul reveals youth job program

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announces a new youth jobs initiative called Right Track. The program builds on the city’s Youth Job Corps program, adding internships and professional partnerships for kids to gain access to. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

DeShaun Baker, 17, has gained a lot of career experience working for Xcel Energy; he was lined up with an internship with the company through St. Paul’s Youth Job Corps program. (submitted photo)

Right Track is a rebranded, expanded job resource for kids

Harding High School junior DeShaun Baker, 17, has gone in a short time from pulling weeds to pulling files at an Xcel Energy power plant.

He’s got a lot of hard work and initiative to thank for that -- the kid seems to have a lot of “get up and go.”

And he’s also got St. Paul’s Youth Job Corps to thank.

Baker started working with the city’s teen jobs program, which plugged him into Urban Roots, an East Side nonprofit that focuses on gardening and youth engagement.

There, he did gardening work for a couple of summers, before staff at YJC told him about an opportunity to work with Xcel Energy. So that’s what he did last summer -- he learned a whole set of office skills and made some money. He thought it would end when school started, but he was pleasantly surprised when his Xcel supervisors told him they’d extend the internship an entire year.

He said the experience “intensified my desire to go to college.”

He’s at the Xcel plant three days a week after school, he said, while also attending College Possible courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays to prepare for applying to schools. He wants to go to college and become an engineer.

Baker’s story is just the kind that the city’s new Right Track program hopes to make a common phenomenon.

Right Track, formally launched on Wednesday, Feb. 5 by the city, is a rebranding and expanding of the longstanding St. Paul Youth Job Corps program.

Youth unemployment

Mayor Chris Coleman spoke at a press conference at the US Bank branch on Payne Avenue to announce the initiative.

“Unfortunately, one third of our youth ages 16 to 19 are unemployed,” he said, setting the context for the initiative.

“There are significant disparities in education and employment outcomes,” he said, that “pose serious threats to the future well-being of our economy in our cities.”

Right Track, he said, could be a way to address this.

“It’s a way for our children and our employers to envision a pipeline of opportunities that build skills,” he said.

It can show kids “how a first job at a park or library ... can lead to an internship at EcoLab, for instance,” he said, and that job could lead them to an entry-level professional position.

The initiative is a partnership between various city departments, non-profits, and private sector businesses.

Multi-step approach

Brad Meyer, spokesperson from St. Paul Parks and Recreation, called Right Track “a multi-step approach” that builds on the former YJC program.

Kids can now start out in what used to be the YJC program, now called Youth Jobs 01, in hopes of getting plugged into more professional job settings.

From there, there are opportunities to plug into the second level of the tract, Youth Jobs 02, where kids can find professional internships. And from there they can go to Youth Jobs Pro, working at places like the IT company Genesys Works which require a more developed set of skils.

The city provides jobs for Youth Jobs 01 in just about every city department, Meyer said.

And while the city has always partnered with other organizations to get kids job, Right Track formalizes that approach, in hopes of giving kids achievable goals.

The goal is that youth will say: “‘Hey, I start here, and I can finish here,’” Meyer said.

While the city has always made efforts “to help provide opportunities for kids to be connected with businesses,” Right Track puts that all in neat package, Meyer said.

Committed employers for the program this coming year include Ecolab, Genesys Works, US Bank, League of Minnesota Cities, Metropolitan Council, Travelers, City of St. Paul, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Xcel Energy, and McGough Construction.

The city is still looking for additional partners.

Slowed funds

Meyer said the YJC program had experienced a financial hit in recent years, due to a reduction in grant funding for the program.

Meyer said more kids apply for the city youth job program than get jobs -- with over 1,000 applications received every year, they’ve placed anywhere from 400 to 900 kids annually, mostly into jobs in the city’s various departments.

“The numbers ... always exceed how many we’re actually able to accommodate,” he said.

The job initiative works with teens who are age 14 and older, St. Paul residents, and from low-income families.

Kids can apply through the city, and city staff will process the applications and connect the youths with jobs according to their skill sets, and the availability of employment.

For more information about the Right Track program, visit

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

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