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Local Businesses Lack Interest in Learn and Earn Initiative

Around 2,000 young people have applied for the Learn and Earn program, which connects teens and young adults to six-week paid summer internships, but employers don’t seem as interested.

The open enrollment period for the initiative ended Friday, but according to 3 Rivers Workforce Investment Board CEO Stefani Pashman, only about half of the companies, nonprofits and government agencies needed for the project have signed up.

“We had a really nice response from both youth living in the city and the county, and our job now is to sift through all those applications and find the appropriate placement for those individuals,” Pashman said. “We’re still seeking more sites and particularly more companies who are interested in opening up their doors to host youth this summer.”

Last year, more than 1,300 people between the ages of 14 and 21 applied for the program, but only 500 positions were available. This year, the city, county and Jerome Bettis’ Bus Stops Here Foundation sought to raise an estimated $4.5 million to place 1,300 young people from the city and 700 from the county in summer internships.

There is no deadline for companies to commit to the project, so Pashman is hopeful she will meet her goal. In the meantime, she is asking larger companies to give even if they aren't able to participate.

“If a smaller business is able to do it, but they can’t afford it, a larger corporation could sponsor more youth than they can handle for their capacity and we can then give youth an opportunity in a smaller corporation,” she said.

Local business partners must contribute $2,000 per intern for pre-internship screening, training, counseling and wages. So far, businesses such as PNC Bank, Highmark and People’s Natural Gas have signed up.

“If they’re looking for a career in health care, we can do that,” Pashman said. “If they’re looking for a career in theater, we have a program where they can work on theater or film production. So we’ve got very diverse opportunities to meet the needs of the diverse youth in our area.”

According to the 3 Rivers Workforce Investment Board, employment rates for those 14 to 21 in Allegheny County have decreased 39 percent since 2000. At the same time, Pashman said Pittsburgh has plenty of full-time employment opportunities.

“We know we have a lot of open jobs and not enough individuals qualified to fill those jobs,” Pashman said. “And so, this is our way of making sure that there’s a pipeline of future workers available so our businesses can thrive.”

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."