It’s been more than five years since the beginning of one of the largest economic slowdowns in history, and college graduates are still facing a challenging job market as they compete with older, more seasoned workers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 the unemployment rate among Americans age 16-24 was more than twice the unemployment rate for people of all ages. To prepare for this highly competitive job market and increase their chances of employment after college, some high school students have begun to consider ways to gain valuable work experience and realworld skills early on. These students are exploring unique new opportunities to join effective and mission-driven organizations that operate in their home communities.
Students like Anyssa Chebbi and Mia Spigelman found such an opportunity when, in 2013, they were selected to join the Bank of America Student Leaders program, which connects young leaders with employment to give them the tools and resources needed to excel. The program recognizes high school juniors and seniors who are engaged in service in their communities and rewards them with paid summer internships with local nonprofits and training at a student leadership summit in Washington D.C. developed in partnership with the Close Up Foundation.
Chebbi and Spigelman, who attend Coral Reef and Palmetto High Schools, were selected for the program after creating community initiatives that helped improve the lives of others.
After a trip to help feed the homeless in downtown Miami, Chebbi was inspired to create a program for homeless youth through the Miami-Dade County Commission.
“In 10th grade, my sister took me to feed the homeless downtown and I realized that not all homeless people are adults,” said Chebbi, who is a member of the Commission. “It hadn’t occurred to me that there are students who attend school while struggling with homelessness.”
Through Chebbi’s initiative, students at her school collected hygiene products and school supplies for their homeless peers, helping them to focus more on their studies and less on basic needs. Chebbi will attend Princeton University in the fall.
Meanwhile, a different kind of societal problem drove Spigelman to create a program called Girls Who Run the World. “In my freshman year I joined the school’s debate team and, to my amazement, I was the only girl on the team,” said Spigelman. “It bothered me that girls did not feel comfortable in their own skin and were not confident speaking publicly about topics that they felt passionate about.”
Spigelman created a leadership development program held at the Barnyard in Coconut Grove Village West that encourages young girls to speak up and embrace their individuality through written and verbal exercises.
“Unknowingly, this program made me a better leader as well as a better listener, since I was able to spend so much time hearing the ideas, thoughts and stories of these girls,” said Spigelman, who will attend the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs Business School next fall. Through the Bank of America Student Leaders program, both Chebbi and Spigelman also received a paid summer internship with the Boys and Girls Club of Miami-Dade where they continued to develop their leadership skills while working as counselors.
“The internship was very useful to me because I gained valuable skills that future employers will want, and achieved recognition from the corporate world,” said Spigelman.
As the need for more qualified workers continues to grow, students will undoubtedly need more workplace experience to better market themselves to future employers. Initiatives like the Bank of America Student Leaders program are a great option to gain key experience and learn life lessons to guide students throughout their careers.