COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the nation’s employment landscape, and young people are at particular risk. They’re often the first to be let go, the last to be hired, and major employers of young people—including the food service and hospitality industries—are significantly impacted by the pandemic. The YES Project has been speaking with young people representing various stages of education and employment to learn firsthand about their job experiences during COVID-19 and their advice for how decision makers can support them at this unprecedented time.
Here are highlights from our conversation with Marissa H., age 19, from Illinois. Marissa is second-year college junior and is an alum of Urban Alliance – a national nonprofit connecting young people with paid internship experiences. Marissa has recently secured a summer internship with the American Medical Association, which she says she would not have secured without the preparation and connections she made through Urban Alliance.
I’m currently a full-time student, and it was really difficult for me to find a summer job at first. Before COVID hit, I didn’t have a job. I really started searching once I had to come home from school when everything closed down due to the pandemic, which was in March. I was hesitant about working because Coronavirus was new, and it was just about everywhere, and I didn’t want to catch anything or bring it home to my family. My school provides resources for mental health and learning how to use technology, but not much for the job search.
It took me a few months to get a job because I really just needed support in finding and navigating the jobs that are specifically geared toward college students or younger people like myself. I think Coronavirus is really having a significant impact on the economy but especially for young people. The unemployment rate has increased, especially for us, and there aren’t that many jobs open right now that are specifically for young people during this time.
Back in high school I participated in a program called Urban Alliance. They gave me an internship that started at the beginning of my senior year and lasted all the way until I went away to my first year of college. As an alum of that program, I was able to apply for further support and they were able to place me in the internship I have now at the American Medical Association. It’s really great because they place you depending on your interests and the career that you want to pursue. So, since I want to go into nursing and healthcare, they partnered me with the American Medical Association. I plan on being a pediatric nurse practitioner, and I mostly want to work in those neighborhoods that are underserved or underrepresented, so this internship is perfect for me right now.
Honestly, if I hadn’t applied to participate in Urban Alliance I probably wouldn't be working right now. In the beginning of quarantine, the job search was really hard, especially because I didn’t receive much support from my school in that regard. Because of the connection from Urban Alliance and because I had already had my first internship to prepare me, I was able to get one foot in the door. Most of my friends had a difficult experience, too, or they are still searching.
I was really relieved to have this job, but I felt prepared. During my senior year of high school, my internship was with another healthcare organization that is trying to change the delivery of healthcare. So, I think that by working at that company last year I was able to prepare for this role because I kind of knew what to expect. Both experiences helped me learn more about things I need to know for school and for my career – like there is a right way and a wrong way to take blood pressure. So, I collect that information and I can take that to school and apply it to some of my classes and it’s cool because not many other people in class know that stuff.
My one message to employers would probably be just to be courteous and mindful to its employees or people that are looking for jobs, and to be flexible with us. The state that we are in is currently very hectic – a lot of adjustments have been made. I think it’s very important to take into consideration everything that has impacted us and to remember what [young people] can bring to the table.