Internship program aims to bring more diverse workforce to city

The program places students of diverse racial backgrounds in city departments.

by Marjorie Otto

 

Sixteen Minneapolis college students will intern with the city this summer as it works to close one of the biggest racial unemployment gaps in the nation.

The Urban Scholars program, which began last year, takes 14 undergraduate and two graduate students from diverse racial backgrounds and places them in one of 16 city departments.

Karen Francois, director of employment equity for the City of Minneapolis, said the paid internship program started in light of a 2011 study that found Minneapolis had one of the biggest racial unemployment disparities in the country.

While the overall unemployment for the city is 5 percent, the rate is 18 percent for African-American residents and 25 percent for American Indians, according to the city.

After the report, Francois said the city created One Minneapolis Equity in Employment, an initiative aimed at reducing the racial disparity in the city, which included the Urban Scholars program.

This summer, the city will offer twice as many positions to students looking to intern with the city.

Past students said the program gave them a taste of working in the public sector.

“It allowed me to grow … from a student to a professional,” said Ahmed Abdulle, an urban studies sophomore at the University of Minnesota who interned with the city last summer.

“I learned a lot about how the city actually works from the inside,” he said.

Apart from the city’s unemployment gap, Francois said the internship could also bring more young people and people of color into city government.

Francois said people of color make up about a quarter of the city workforce, but according to the 2010 U.S. Census, they make up about 36 percent of the city’s population.

In 2016, about a fifth of city workers will be able to retire, Francois said.

“We call that the ‘Silver Tsunami.’”

She said because of that, the city wants to bring a younger workforce into Minneapolis government.

Urban Scholars students work in one of 16 departments within the city’s government, ranging from the fire department to the civil rights department. Occasionally students also get to work closely with the mayor.

“It opened some doors for me,” Abdulle said. “I am now a little bit interested in obtaining maybe a degree in urban studies.”

By the end of the internship, Francois said students develop a strong network with city officials, which can lead to future employment opportunities.

 “I felt part of the city, not just a citizen, not just a resident, but part of it,” Abdulle said.

Applications for the internship are due April 8.