At the beginning of the summer, Margarita Armijo was hoping to land a paid internship with a law enforcement agency to start on a career path toward becoming a probation officer. She went through 40 hours of training on how to interview for a job and how to act in a professional setting.
The call for an internship hasn’t come yet. And Armijo, who will soon start her senior year at Sacramento’s Hiram Johnson High School, ended up working at McDonald’s.
Armijo, 17, is part of the Thousand Strong initiative, an ambitious program launched in May by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg that aims to place 1,000 high school students in paid internships. The mayor has touted the program as a springboard into employment for kids from underprivileged backgrounds and a path toward building the city’s next generation of skilled workers.
About three months after the program launched and with students heading back to school, just 135 have been placed in internships. Another 80 are expected to begin work “in the next couple of weeks” and more than 150 are waiting for internship slots to open up at local companies, said Erica Kashiri, the mayor’s head of workforce development. About 380 students have gone through the 40-hour training program.
Steinberg said his 1,000 internship goal “is a huge lift” that will take time. Young people are being placed in organizations that have not typically hired high school-age students, and convincing local business leaders to take that chance has been challenging.
“This is an audacious idea,” Steinberg said. “Nowhere in the country, to my knowledge, is another city attempting this kind of youth workforce development on this scale.”
Armijo, who lives in south Sacramento, said not getting an internship so far has “kind of been a letdown because I had seen it as a way to stay away from fast food (jobs).”
“I’ve tried my best and I know somebody will be there (to hire me), I’m just not sure when,” she said. “In our school and in our community, a lot of people think we’re not going far. But when people reach out and help us, we get to where we need to be. There are a lot of kids out here who want to be something – they don’t want to be a statistic.”
Steinberg said all 380 young people who have gone through the Thousand Strong training – including Armijo – will get internships.
“It’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m in this for the long haul.”
Part of the reason so many students remain without internships is that some companies have scaled back on their original pledges, according to the city. It’s led to some students expressing disappointment with the process, Kashiri said.
“Companies have said, ‘I committed to 10 slots and I’m rolling back to two,’ or ‘I committed to five and I’m taking one,’” Kashiri said. “I’ve been quite impressed with the group (of students) that has stuck it out and all I can say is, ‘Thank you.’”
The program isn’t about landing young people in typical summer jobs; the companies that have hired students so far include the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, CalPERS, the state Department of Justice, Mulvaney’s restaurant and lobbying firm Platinum Advisors, according to Kashiri.
Jordan Smith, 16, a senior at Rio Linda High School, has spent most of her summer interning full time at the Metro Chamber. She has taken part in several chamber events and meetings and learned how to network with leaders in the business community.
“As a high schooler, you don’t really get that opportunity,” she said. “Not only is this my first job, it’s setting me up for whatever business-oriented opportunities I might have in the future.”