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How Paid Internships Can Add Huge Value to a Young Person’s Life

posted on November 20, 2017 by Tony Monfiletto, Director

“Imagine how our city would be different if more young people had a chance to work with professionals like Frederica and the Human Resources team at PNM. “

 

 

One third of students who drop out of high school will try to return, According to WestEd (1). Of those who attempt to go back, only 20 percent will graduate. Out of the 28,000 high school students in Albuquerque, roughly two thirds of them will graduate (18,666 graduates and 9,333 dropouts). Assuming young people in our community are similar to students across the country, only 3,111 of the students who leave will attempt to return (one third), and only 622 will be successful (20 percent). In other words, only 622 of the 9,333 dropouts in our community will ultimately graduate which is just seven percent of the total.

Enter Maria Reyes who graduated from Health Leadership High School in May 2017.  Like Christina Rodriguez who blogged for us earlier this month, Maria was desperate for a chance to find her way in the world.  She’s a young mother who reluctantly joined the Evening Reengagement program at the school which is designed specifically for students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out. After a rocky start that included a lot of trust building with her teacher, Jeanette Paiz, she earned a paid internship with the Improve Group in the Spring and PNM Resources in the Summer. I sat down with Maria and Frederica Romero, her mentor at PNM, and was reminded of just how valuable a meaningful paid work experience can be in a young person’s life.

Frederica is a Senior Recruiter at PNM. This was her first time supervising an intern. She had a three step strategy:

  1. Make Maria feel valuable and useful
  2. Put a structure in place to make her integral to the department
  3. Let her develop her reputation as an asset to the team

The internship started with a round of “speed dating” where Maria met with 25 employees at PNM for 30 minutes each to learn about their role at the company and what they do every day.  Then Frederica set up an online calendar where those people could request for Maria to help them with a task. People then started to book Maria to help them with assignments that including setting up conference rooms for executive meetings, scanning, organizing and filing documents, and building a database of contractors who work with the company.

Her skills have become increasingly sophisticated over time. “Executive Functioning Skills” like scheduling and time management have become essential as the demand for her support has increased. More importantly, she has learned that people have started to count on her for tasks that they cannot do themselves, and that following through is essential as she works to build her reputation as a trusted colleague in the office.

Frederica was the perfect mentor for Maria.  She was caring and thought of her as an asset from the beginning.  She also put the structures in place that allowed her to learn and grow as a young professional. According to Frederica, “Maria made it easy for us, she’s a natural multi-tasker, she’s not afraid of technology, she’s detail oriented and she asks a lot of questions.”

Maria told me, “It’s important to have a good personality and manners. Like saying hello and good morning. I’ve never seen people say good morning and hello like they do here.  People smile a lot and it makes you want to talk to them and be approachable. It’s important to be responsible and accountable because I want people to have a good impression of me.  I see myself as a helpful person who can help others get their jobs done.”

Maria told me about a specific task when she fielded questions from employees about their benefits. She learned about pensions, health insurance, and death benefits for families of former employees. “Most people don’t understand their benefits and this has taught me how important they are. Some people don’t try to understand their benefits until they need them.  I knew about benefits, but now I understand them in a real way through this experience.”

Maria is only half way done with her internship, but she is on her way. Her internship is a success, she knows what it feels like to work in a professional environment, and she’s committed to college to achieve her dreams. Imagine how our city would be different if more young people had a chance to work with professionals like Frederica and the Human Resources team at PNM. Our organization will facilitate 40 paid internships similar to Maria’s this year. Five companies have joined us and we plan to grow the number of partners so that we can offer 250 graduating senior in the Leadership Schools Network a similar opportunity in the future. This is an essential step in our vision to empower young people to make our city healthier and more prosperous.

(1) Sarah D. Sparks: “Many Dropouts Try—and Fail—to Return to School.” Education Week, June 6, 2013. http://spf.dpsk12.org/spf_alt.html

 

 

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