New Tech Program Combats Youth Unemployment in St. Louis

Eva Harder

Mar 3, 2016

Youth Tech is a new program at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis that trains low- to moderate-income youth age 16-24 for the technology sector. This story is part of a series on the ways that 2015 Youth Opportunity Fund grantees are supporting innovative, scalable programs that place low-income youth on a path to college and career success. The $3 million Fund is led by the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise Alliance.

Even though Jamadj Mims-Neely, 23, graduated from Missouri’s Lindenwood University with a degree in cyber security, he felt that he lacked the skills he needed to get the job he wanted. So he enrolled in the Youth Tech Workforce Initiative Program, a new program at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis that trains low- to moderate-income youth ages 16-24 for jobs in the technology sector.

“So often, kids from low-income sectors veer away from STEM. We want to help them understand that they too are capable, whether it’s through fixing a computer, or designing an app or a website,” said Herta Shikapwashya, the vice president of Workforce Development at The Urban League of Metropolitan of St. Louis.

Mims-Neely is currently taking one of the program’s 12-week web development courses. “Since I was young, I’ve been interested in technology,” he said. “[Now] I want to open my own business.”

Ivana Solomon, 16 and in her last year of being home schooled, said her parents convinced her to take a coding class at Youth Tech. “HTML is another language, just like Spanish,” she said. “If I get good at it, maybe I can earn extra cash.”

How the Youth Tech Program Works

Launched with help from a Youth Opportunity Fund grant from the Citi Foundation and America's Promise Alliance, Youth Tech currently serves 66 students, providing free training, mentors and help finding short- and long-term jobs. The courses are flexible and offered over seven to 12 weeks to accommodate students who work or go to school at the same time.

All participants are required to complete a coding challenge that demonstrates their mastery of the field. Upon completion of the program, youth are awarded a certificate of completion, a mentor to support them in their transition to full-time employment, and job placement services to help them find a local IT job.

Youth Tech

The Urban League has partnered with two “boot camps,” Claim Academy and Computer Village, to provide the hands-on training.

“We know that there are a lot of companies that want professionals working in IT. However, they want people with experience,” Shikapwashya said. Many of Youth Tech’s students are high school graduates who haven’t gone to college, and some have worked a series of odd jobs but lack professional training or experience in the IT sector.

“Once the youth complete the training, we’ll be able to network them into companies we work with and give them some real work experience before they accept a full-time job,” Shikapwashya said, adding that the program plans on reaching a total of 250 young people by August 2016.

Fighting Youth Unemployment in St. Louis

In St. Louis, roughly 40,000 young people are out of school or out of work. The Youth Tech program is one of a number of programs aimed at combating the high youth unemployment rate in the St. Louis Region.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor gave $5 million to Missouri to help young people in the St. Louis area find work. Governor Jay Nixon introduced a summer jobs program targeting low-income young adults that same year. The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, one of the contractors for the St. Louis region, operated the largest summer program in its history by serving over 1,000 young people last year.

As a partner for Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in Saint Louis County WIA, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis implements a comprehensive workforce training program to help future IT professionals reach their full career potential and build the strength and diversity of the region’s IT workforce. 

“The best way to help low-income youth create pathways out of poverty is not only to offer them a job, but to train them for a life-long career. We have to be able to empower our community, and one of the ways we can do that is to give them portable and transferable skills,” Shikapwashya said, echoing her CEO’s sentiments.

“If young people take that confidence with them to the workforce, it will take them a long way.”

The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s 
Pathways to Progress initiative focused on preparing young people to thrive in today’s economy. In 2014, the Citi Foundation made a three-year, $50 million commitment to boost the career readiness of 100,000 low-income youth in 10 cities across the United States.

 Learn more about other Youth Opportunity Fund grantees, including City Service Corps, Per Scholas, and the Urban Alliance.