On April 22, Urban Alliance DC Executive Director Monique Rizer testified about the impact of year-long high school internship programs before the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Below is her full prepared testimony:
Good afternoon Council member Silverman, Council member Allen, Council member Grosso, Council member McDuffie, and Council member White. My name is Monique Rizer and I am the Executive Director of Urban Alliance in Washington, DC. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony today.
Established in Washington, DC in 1996, and now serving students in five cities nationally, Urban Alliance exists to empower underserved youth to aspire, work, and succeed through paid, year-long internships; training; intensive case management; and mentoring. Our flagship program is the High School Internship Program which provides students with six weeks of job skills training, a nine-month paid internship, and weekly workforce development training, post-high-school planning, and life skills workshops. Urban Alliance interns work in fields ranging from law, to finance, technology, and more, exposing them to new career pathways and giving them direct access to professional networks. The program not only builds their resumes, it puts them on a path toward lifelong economic self-sufficiency.
I’m here today to provide support for increasing access to year-round internships for youth in the District. I was happy to speak to Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, Director of the Washington, DC Department of Employment Services (DOES), last week and hear her support for year-round internships as well. We share and support Dr. Hughes’ views: that year-round internships for in-school youth offer unique opportunities to both positively reinforce school persistence and achievement, and inspire students to pursue post-high school pathways that will result in economic security.
Urban Alliance is positioned to collaborate across the District’s education and workforce development systems to support at least 200 youth with year-long experiences, with the right resources and investments. We support any efforts to increase investment in year-round internships and will collaborate with other organizations to ensure as many youth who seek a year-long experience can receive one.
Today, I’d like to provide insight into how our year-round internship program works, the results of our model, and the value of a year-round internship experience for young adults.
How Urban Alliance’s Year-long Internship Works
Urban Alliance has provided internships to more than 2,200 students in the District. We’ve also provided programming, beyond the internship, to an additional 15,000 young adults. We do this work in partnership with DCPS, DOES, and more than 50 employers and community partners, two of whom are here today: Academy of Hope and the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Our interns work in companies like Skadden Arps law firm, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Children’s National Health System, Clark Construction Group, Horning Brothers, the Department of Homeland Security, NoMA Business Improvement District, and many others. In addition, more than 100 District employees mentor our students in these organizations.
Recruiting Students and Applying for the Program
Each year we work with DCPS central office staff, principals, counselors, and teachers to identify and enroll students in our program. We also do outreach at schools and community events to let students know about the opportunity to work in a year-round internship during their senior year of high school. Students must be eligible for an early release schedule during their senior year of high school, but we exercise flexibility on other general requirements such as GPA as needed. Each student must complete an online application and have a signed permission slip from their parent or guardian and their high school counselor.
In the fall of their senior year, we invite all who have met the application requirements to participate in what we call “Pre-work”: six weeks of intensive education after school, Monday – Thursday. Students learn the basics of entering a professional work environment, from dress, to communication, to commonly used tools such as Excel. The final week includes pre-placement interviews to best match students and internship sites. We review their application interest, their performance during Pre-work, and their interview responses to determine their internship placement. Interns are then connected with their mentor (which is what we call their supervisor at the internship) at a celebratory event prior to the first day of work.
Job Partners and Mentors in the District
Meanwhile, we have vetted and trained mentors at each job partner. Many return each year and have mentored upwards of 30 interns as part of their commitment to the youth of DC. Employers make a $15,000 investment in Urban Alliance for each intern they hire. From that $15,000, we pay each intern the minimum wage of $13.25 per hour, with opportunities for up to two $1 pay raises during the year. The investment from each employer also supports training, additional programming, and post-internship college and career guidance.
During the school year, interns work Monday through Thursday between 8-12 hours per week in the afternoons. Each Friday, interns return to Urban Alliance for continued training and professional development reinforcement, as well as to prepare their post-high school plans.
Urban Alliance Program Coordinator
One of the unique elements of the Urban Alliance internship experience is that interns have a dedicated Urban Alliance staff member, called a Program Coordinator, to coach them throughout the year and liaise with the mentor at the job site. The Program Coordinator ensures each intern has what they need to be successful in the program, whether it be professional dress or tips for navigating a new job. Program Coordinators also facilitate three evaluations throughout the year designed to simulate a real-life performance evaluation. Mentors complete a short survey assessing their intern’s soft skills growth, and through our internal evaluation team, we provide a one-page summary of the interns’ soft skills, as well as overall feedback from the mentor about the intern’s job performance. Program Coordinators then meet with the intern and the mentor together to review the intern’s progress. The goal is to see growth over the course of the year, not to seek perfection.
The final core duty of a Program Coordinator is to work closely with the intern to prepare a post-high school plan. Each Program Coordinator ensures each intern has a clear pathway and a means to achieving that pathway, whether it be college, which more than 80 percent of our interns pursue, a career training program, or the military.
Full-Time Work After Graduation
After graduation from high school, interns begin full-time work, Monday – Thursday, working up to 32 hours per week. The interns also complete a “capstone” at the end of their internship, which we call the Public Speaking Challenge. Each intern provides a public presentation on their internship experience, are rated by a panel of judges from the community, and are eligible to receive a bonus if they perform well.
Following interns’ completion of the Urban Alliance internship, we provide career and college counseling services for as long as they would like. We follow the interns (called alumni once they complete the program) most intensely for their first two years out of high school. During that time, we ensure alumni are on their planned post-high school pathway, and if they become disconnected from school or work, we will help them reconnect to a career or college pathway. Our goal is to ensure that all alumni leave our program with the training, networks, and experience needed to connect to economic self-sufficiency.
Program Results and Impact
Over 90 percent of Urban Alliance alumni are accepted to college, and 80 percent enroll in college. A further 80 percent of enrolled alumni persist to a second year in college, and 80 percent of all alumni are connected to a college, career, or career training pathway one-year post-program. In 2017, Urban Institute completed a six-year randomized controlled trial (RCT), finding that completing the year-long High School Internship Program had a statistically significant impact upon the likelihood of young men attending college (increased by 23 percentage points), the likelihood of mid-GPA students enrolling in four-year colleges (increased by 18 percentage points), and students’ retention of and comfort with professional soft skills. Thanks to the collaboration of DCPS we can share these results with you. We are conducting a second RCT as well.
Evidence for year-round experiences
MDRC, a research organization, recently conducted a scan of the evidence on what works for disconnected youth. Although their focus was on the population of young people aged 16 to 24 who are not connected to work or school, approaches that can help disconnected youth and prevent disconnection overlap. Successful programs share common features such as:
- Paid opportunities and financial incentives;
- Connections among education, training, and the job market;
- Using youth development approaches;
- Comprehensive support services; and
- Continued support after the program ends – all of which Urban Alliance offers.
Our youth frequently tell us that their very first work experiences help them to take responsibility, develop critical time management skills, and overcome shyness. In fact, research by Nobel Prize-winning economist James J. Heckman indicates that these are the very soft skills that our youth need to succeed regarding educational attainment, future wages, and life outcomes.
An abundance of recent research has shown that working while in high school can lead to increased college enrollment, higher wages later in life, and earlier success in the job market.
A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBR) found that high school and college students with paid work experience were more likely to earn more income later in life. And National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) data shows that young job applicants today need applied learning experiences – such as internships or apprenticeships – to succeed.
Employers also look for that same type of experience when hiring; according to NACE, 91 percent of employers, when considering brand-new college graduates, prefer to hire those with work experience.
A 2017 NACE round-up of recent studies on the value of internships found that in general, graduates with some internship experience were more likely than peers without internships experience to find employment upon graduation
Urban Alliance is one of the few year-round internship programs for high school seniors in the District, and I appreciate the opportunity to provide this testimony on behalf of the 130 young adults we are currently serving here.
We believe in the District, are proud to be headquartered and founded here, and are committed to continuing to provide high-quality workforce development services for its youth and connecting them to businesses that want to invest in local talent. I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have and would be happy to provide further feedback.