Bakersfield launches first-of-its-kind youth workforce program as part of state effort

For the first time ever, the city of Bakersfield will be offering internships and job opportunities tailored for local teenagers and college students in an attempt to spur interest in local government and address relatively high youth unemployment. Starting Friday, the city plans to release applications for summer internships, which will be available to local high school students. Other programs in its workforce development program include a yearlong college fellowship, an eight-week parks mobile team and another internship program based on the needs of the Kern Community Foundation and the Dream Resource Center. The city successfully applied for a roughly $5.4 million Californians For All Workforce Development grant, which will provide funds for the new positions. “The city’s No. 1 goal here is to get youth interested in public service and community service. We have a number of jobs here at the city of Bakersfield that are open, and it’s really an exciting time to work for the city of Bakersfield thanks to Measure N and many of the new initiatives that the city is starting,” said Anthony Valdez, assistant to the city manager. “We want to inspire this generation to be interested in public service.”

The Kern Community Foundation will manage the program for the city, and plans to expand from four to eight employees in order to handle the workload. The local nonprofit plans to target underserved areas and those who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system in its outreach. “We’re going to be giving these youngsters opportunities to look at maybe careers that they didn’t think about and things that are going to benefit the city in general,” said foundation President and CEO Aaron Falk. “I wish that in high school somebody had pulled me aside and said, ‘Did you know you can get an associate’s degree from BC and then get a six-figure job?’ I don’t think anybody is telling kids that.” The workforce development program comes at a time of high youth unemployment in Bakersfield. According to data provided by the city, teenagers aged 16 to 19 had a 25.6 percent unemployment rate in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available. Those aged 16 and over had a 7.6 percent unemployment rate in Bakersfield, compared to a statewide rate of 6.2 percent and a national rate of 5.4 percent. “The need is high to engage and employ youth and also get them excited about public and community service,” Valdez said. “We want youth to be inspired from Bakersfield to stay in Bakersfield and see themselves in careers and community and public service jobs that pay well, are stable and come with great benefits.”

The state’s 13 biggest cities were eligible to receive funding, but smaller cities and counties will also become involved in the project’s second phase. State leaders hope to tackle some of the most difficult issues facing California while providing youth with job opportunities and a career pathway to government service, in addition to at least a $15 per hour wage. Many of the new jobs across the state will focus on issues like climate change, homelessness and food insecurity. The $185 million program, paid for by federal coronavirus relief money, is expected to employ thousands of youth over the next several years. “We think what’s unique is that we are really focusing on a population that has either been excluded or doesn’t have these kinds of opportunities,” said Josh Fryday, California’s chief service officer, a position in the governor’s office. “We think that by focusing on that population and really making sure that we’re doing work that is focused on the community, that we’re doing something that is going to add value to everyone.”

The city hopes to hire 400 youth by 2026, when the program will have completed. “We have the opportunity to demonstrate that by investing in our young people, we can help them launch a meaningful and purposeful life, while also tackling our biggest issues,” Fryday said. “If we can do all of that together at the same time, I think we’re going to demonstrate a really important model for this work moving forward.”

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