May 10, 2006 - For companies wishing to hire employees they don't have to pay, the Tucson Urban League has an answer.
Each summer, the league places about 300 young workers in businesses across Pima County to perform entry-level tasks, including typing, filing, cleaning and moving items around in warehouses. The league takes care of the pay - $5.15 an hour - and asks only that businesses evaluate their free employees twice and check their time sheets.
Employers in the past have included law firms, mom-and-pop stores, fast-food chains and major corporations.
"The company gets valuable labor, the kid gets valuable work experience," said Curtis Stokelin, a youth counselor at the league.
The arrangement is part of the league's Summer Youth Program, which is run in cooperation with Pima County Community Services.
Each summer, youth ages 14 through 21 arrive at the center, where they learn general job skills before stepping into jobs in the community for seven weeks or, in some cases, before they get paid to attend summer school instead.
In three eight-hour sessions, the students study topics that include communicating with a supervisor, filling out a time sheet, dressing for success, practicing good hygiene, communicating with supervisors and co-workers, practicing a responsible attitude and handling grievances.
The youth specify which areas they'd most like to fit into - food service, child care, recreation, office work, telemarketing or manual labor - and then in the middle of June, they start work.
"All you do is provide them with a safe working environment and help teach them the business they're at," Stokelin said.
The program began in the early 1970s under the Job Protection Training Act to help young people move into the workforce. Since then, government funding for youth employment programs has diminished, and Pima County Community Services coordinates with various agencies including the league to offer the program.
Other participating agencies include Tucson Youth Development, Summer Internship Program, Pima County's wastewater management and transportation departments, and Service Employment and Redevelopment.
The league's program targets mostly in-school youth and focuses on teens who are too young to be hired by businesses or are performing significantly below grade level.
The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce created the league to address problems related to minority unemployment.
Employers interested in participating in the Summer Youth Program can call 791-9522 to pick up a form on which they will list job duties for the slot they want to fill, stipulations about the kind of employees they need and the hours they want worked.
Stokelin said employers ideally would set aside some time to mentor participants.
"We would hope that they would impart upon that young person the knowledge of their business with the hope that if they did a good job they could become an employee," he said.