[Hall Monitor] Summer Internships Narrow the Opportunity Gap

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Stacy Carrizales (in pink), is a Jefferson High School senior participating in the Jungle Disk internship. Photo courtesy of SAISD.

On Tuesday, San Antonio ISD announced that 21 students and recent graduates from district will begin a four-week paid internship with cybersecurity firm Jungle Disk. The students will make $9 per hour working in teams to come up with creative marketing solutions for Jungle Disk products. In doing so they will get to know the products themselves, giving them exposure to the technology and vocabulary they will encounter in the fast-growing cybersecurity field.

“There is a growing demand for tech and cybersecurity talent in San Antonio and we are thrilled to play a part in sparking interest in technology at the high school level through internship programs like this one, training academies and mentorship,” said Bret Piatt, CEO at Jungle Disk, in a press release issued by SAISD.

Jungle Disk is also a partner for CAST Tech, the district’s tech-industry high school. Internships are a central component of the CAST model. CAST Tech, CAST Med, and CAST STEM are each aligned with industries poised for growth, as identified by the SA Works, the workforce development arm of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

SA Works, along with the SAISD Foundation and Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran’s office, helped shepherd the SAISD-Jungle Disk summer internship program.

Not only are there a lot of jobs to be had, but the tech industry pays well, especially for the San Antonio area, where the median family income is just above $56,000 per year. The most frequently posted job opening, software developer, has an average annual salary of over $100,000, according to the 2018 SA Works Jobs Report.

Brett Piatt, Jungle Disk CEO speaking. On left is Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran. On right is Romanita Matta-Barrera, SA Works Executive Director and Debra Guerrero, SAISD Trustee.

Brett Piatt, Jungle Disk CEO speaking. On left is Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran. On right is Romanita Matta-Barrera, SA Works Executive Director and Debra Guerrero, SAISD Trustee.
SAISD Courtesy Photo

However, getting a job, at least a job like that, is easier said than done. Especially when your peers started building their resume in elementary school with the help of camps, tutors, and other pricey advantages.

SA Works Executive Director Romanita Matta-Barrera doesn’t want summer internships to land on that list. She encourages local businesses to offer accessible, paid summer positions to students, and to commit to investing in them throughout the internship.

“It’s not enough to say ‘I have this [workforce] need,'” Matta-Barrera said; businesses need to be part of the solution.

It starts with pay. For many students in San Antonio, an unpaid internship with a nonprofit or a political group isn’t an option. They need to make money, often to help pay bills and support their family.

“The reality is that we’re competing with fast food restaurants,” Matta-Barrera said. Not only do these typical summer and after school jobs pay, but they are usually close to home, and don’t create a transportation burden for the family.

The Jungle Disk internships will be housed at Highlands High School, not at the Jungle Disk offices downtown where parking is expensive and most students aren’t familiar with the bus routes.

Paying $9 per hour puts the Jungle Disk partnership on par with other SA Works internships, which average $8.50/hour. Money in students’ pockets flows directly back into the local economy. Their wages generate $1.1 million per summer to the economy through the teen workforce, Matta-Barrera said.

If summer opportunities don’t pay, and if students do not have a workable transportation solution to reach the workplace, then it simply isn’t an option for many. So rather than a stepping stone, an internship can become a brick in the wall separating low-income students and their affluent piers.

An internship isn’t just resume padding though, Matta-Barrera said. It’s valuable exposure, and gives them an idea of the path ahead.

“These students go back to school with a different perspective,” Matta-Barrera said, “They know what the expectations are.”

Employers gain something too, she explained,“We want (employers) to see this as part of their talent growth strategy.”

Relocating new hires is expensive, and it’s largely how San Antonio gets its talent, according to SA Works. From 2015–2016, approximately 90,760 people of working age moved into the San Antonio area, which accounted for about 8 percent of the local labor force in 2016.

Other jobs just go unfilled. Only 43 percent of San Antonio tech jobs posted in 2017 were filled.

Once students have exposure and experience, Matta-Barrera is convinced that employers will be impressed by what local talent can offer. One of the goals of SA Works is to help students become candidates, and candidates to become confident as new hires. They should feel as qualified as they are. Feedback from internships and mentors can help with that.

“We want them to feel valued for what they can bring to the employer,” Matta-Barrera said.

Originally published as “Summer internships narrow the Opportunity Gap,” Hall Monitor, July 11, 2018

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