During a series of Youth Violence Summits held throughout 2016 by Mayor Megan Barry, students in the community recommended that the city work to bolster job opportunities to help keep young people out of trouble. In response, Barry and her team have created Opportunity NOW, an initiative “designed to combat the growing gap in opportunity [that] will become the much needed system for delivering employment and employment-like opportunities for young people.”
In the first of those youth violence summit meetings, Brandon Ramsey, a Hillsboro High School junior, stood up and said: “Nashville, if you want us to walk a tightrope, then give us a safety net!”
At the beginning of March, Barry unveiled the latest effort in her initiative to help create that net — the Opportunity NOW job portal, which will help people aged 14-24 secure jobs and paid internships. Barry made the announcement at Pearl-Cohn Magnet High School, the same place Ramsey made his ask at that first youth violence summit.
“One of the important lessons we learned from that summit was that Nashville’s youth wanted better access to jobs and opportunity,” Barry said in a press release. “Now, thanks to the work of my office, the Nashville Career Advancement Center, and generous donors and supporters from across the city, this portal to opportunity is now open for Nashville’s youth.”
More than 7,000 jobs or paid internships are already available through the portal, and the city’s goal is to have at least 10,000 opportunities available by summer of this year.
“We hope that as Nashville area businesses see the tremendous interest in summer job and internship opportunities, more will step up to do their part to support the community that has helped their companies grow and thrive,” Barry said.
The city has seen fewer and fewer teenagers and young adults working during the summers and after-school, according to the mayor’s office, while “at the same time, Nashville employers across various industries are concerned about the lack of ‘soft’ skills among their youngest employees — skills most readily learned through actual work experience.”
The Nashville Career Advancement Center, the city agency for workforce development, is working closely with Barry and an advisory council on the initiative.
“This is a simple, easy-to-use tool that will connect employers to youth in a way that will expand opportunity for all,” said Ellen Zinkiewicz, director of youth and community services for the Nashville Career Advancement Center, who offered a tutorial at Pearl-Cohn the day the online portal was released. “I hope that all employers and youth in Davidson County will go to on.nashville.gov to see the portal and learn more about how they can use the portal to provide or find meaningful opportunities.”
The Opportunity NOW program will include four separate work categories: a team-focused, project-based program for youth aged 14 to 16.5 that promotes community engagement, a six-week high school internship program that’s for youth aged 16.5, entry level positions for recent high school graduates who plan to attend college, and a category focused on providing immediate job opportunities to various young people.
At the end of May, the city will host pre-employment training for jobs and internship opportunities that begin in June. By using the portal, young people will also be able to use financial literacy resources offered by the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center.
“We want to connect youth to hope, and that means connecting them to opportunity and jobs,” Barry said. “I want for our youth what I want for everyone in our city — a chance to succeed.” The Opportunity NOW portal can be accessed at: https://app-opportunitynow.workbay.net/login.
Image: Mayor Megan Barry shows a Metro student how to access the Opportunity NOW portal.