Hartford Foundation submits testimony in support of expansion of paid internship opportunities for high school students

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving submitted testimony to the legislature’s Labor Committee in support of Senate Bill 410, An Act Concerning Paid Internships for High School Students.

As part of our strategic efforts to dismantle structural racism and advance equitable economic and social mobility for Black and Latine residents of Greater Hartford, the Hartford Foundation is committed to enhancing its work with government, nonprofit and other public-private partners to increase stable employment and career opportunities for youth and adults facing multiple barriers in our region.  

This work recognizes that all residents of our region need access to training and employment options that provide a sustaining wage. The Foundation’s efforts focus on increasing education and training opportunities, hiring and retention of residents with barriers to employment, including returning citizens and opportunity youth disconnected from school and work. The Foundation supports Senate Bill 410 to expand access to paid internships for high school students. 

Through the Foundation’s grantmaking and related efforts, we have seen a critical need for hands-on, paid work experience for youth. This essential for building life skills and reengaging youth, particularly from low-income families, who need to work. As agencies review internship programs for approval, we urge additional attention be given to the quality of the work experience and support to ensure that youth are paid for meaningful assignments and work sites are supportive, otherwise the lesson is not positive. Since the pandemic and well before, we have witnessed the challenge of engaging high school students, growing absenteeism, and the need to structure interventions effective in attracting and holding their attention.

The Foundation has been a long-time supporter of efforts to provide our youth with career readiness development and paid work opportunities. This includes the Foundation’s work with Capital Workforce Partners (CWP), other local nonprofits, and the City of Hartford Connecticut Department of Labor and other funding partners to provide hundreds of youth in Hartford and the Capital Region workforce development and job experiences through the Summer Youth Employment Learning Program (SYELP)

The program provides career readiness development for youth between the ages of 14 and 24 through six-week summer jobs in high-demand sectors at several hundred worksites. In 2023, 1,186 youth were enrolled in SYELP from 18 towns, with 847 participants in Greater Hartford and neighboring communities receiving work experiences at 192 sites. Of the youth enrolled, 57 percent were Black/African American, and 38 percent were Hispanic/Latino. At the SYELP culminating event last summer, we heard about the impact of the internships from the youth themselves and their desire for other youth to have the experience. Four thousand youth applied to participate in SYELP with only about 1 in 4 could participate with the resources available. We recommend additional funding be provided to support these programs.

The Hartford Foundation also provides support to the Hartford Youth Service Corps and the lead agency administering the program, Our Piece of the Pie (OPP). In collaboration with the City of Hartford as well as philanthropy and state and local community partners, OPP works to reengage youth in education and employment through integrating service-learning projects and wraparound supports, targeting youth ages 16 to 24. This is a collaborative effort that provides a wide variety of services for youth to reconnect them to education and workforce development while enabling them to earn an income. The programs provide opportunities for residents to see young people as contributors to their community. 

OPP’s work with the Hartford Youth Services Corps also builds on a collaborative effort with the City of HartfordDalio Education, and the Hartford Foundation to support opportunity youth, individuals 16 to 24 who are currently disengaged from school or work. In addition to OPP, funding support is provided to COMPASS Youth Collaborative and Roca, Inc. to provide individualized, trauma-informed, high-touch support to the young people they specialize in working with:

Through the Hartford Foundation’s investments in education and workforce development initiatives, we have seen firsthand how the interplay across race, gender and where people grow up can have in compounding youth disengagement. This is a matter of racial equity and increasing engagement and opportunities for disconnected youth. There is a critical need to support youth in building basic and professional skills while providing wraparound supports they need to be successful. 

Through its work in support of Hartford’s Community Schools and six of Greater Hartford region’s Alliance Districts (Bloomfield, East Hartford, Manchester, Vernon, Windsor, and Windsor Locks), the Foundation has seen how stronger partnerships among schools, families, nonprofits, and the community help students feel increased connectedness to their school, leading to increased attendance, academic engagement, and persistence to graduation. As the General Assembly has acknowledged with its recent investments in mental health services for children and youth, young people face unprecedented challenges that make it more difficult to persist and achieve in the classroom. 

We know that school districts are looking to engage in career pathways work starting in middle school and continuing through high school. Some districts are interested in partnering with nonprofits to start exposing their students earlier to vocational opportunities, which could include after-school and summer programs. Expanding access to paid internships would be a powerful tool in keeping young people engaged and connected to school and building the future workforce. Strengthening connections to school districts also can help ensure that internships can infuse some basic academic supports that many students need. 

The Foundation has experience in working with the many dedicated nonprofit organizations serving at-risk youth. We encourage the state to develop strategies that enhance and complement effective programming already in place and to provide more supports and opportunities for youth.