Mark Riley, president, Bank of America Fresno/Visalia

published on September 24, 2021 - 9:07 AM
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Fall is here and most teens and young adults are either returning to school or embarking on their first full-time job — a timely opportunity for employers to reflect on the importance of offering early employment opportunities, especially internships, beyond the summer months.

When teens and young adults are connected to employment and workforce experience, they learn about navigating the professional world and workplace dynamics, earn a paycheck and gain other valuable skills and perspectives. And at the same time, employers are helping develop the next generation of talent and provide an important pathway to economic opportunity. In fact, studies show that students who enter the workforce early are more likely to secure better, higher-paying jobs later in life, which often motivates improved financial literacy and interest in saving and investing, leading to wealth creation and greater economic mobility.

Unfortunately, many young people looking for jobs lack the prior experience or resources helpful to get hired. Not only did younger workers experience relatively high peaks in unemployment over the course of the pandemic, especially young people from communities of color, but there are emerging demands for early exposure to jobs, specialized training and workforce skills – putting them at risk of being left behind in a fast-changing job market if they don’t gain on-the-job training.

The Federal Reserve reports that the unemployment rate for Fresno County is hovering at just over 9%. While much lower than the 15.2% reported at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, that’s still significantly above the 5.6% jobless rate reported just before the pandemic struck. Youth employment is likely much higher since the most recent estimate compiled by the Fed just before the pandemic showed that 9.2% of area work-age teens between the ages of 16 and 19 were neither enrolled in school nor employed.

There is no doubt that the private sector can help provide teens and young adults with workforce experience, as we are well positioned to help address youth unemployment both within our own companies as well as with other municipal and community programs. For example, Bank of America has connected 6,500 young people to paid internships, paid training programs and employment opportunities this year alone – and 20,000 summer jobs for young people since 2010 nationwide.

Here in the Fresno and Visalia region this year, Bank of America has funded 42 paid internships through the Community Services Employment Training (CSET) in Tulare County and our own Student Leaders program for high school students.

We’ve also expanded our commitment to workforce development helping more young adults attain paid onsite job skills training and job placement opportunities through a recent $300,000 grant to Career Nexus, a career skills initiative of the Fresno Business Council and one of 19 initiatives from Fresno DRIVE. This program, supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation, will develop new talent pipelines for local companies and help improve the region’s economy. The program is now accepting applications from people between the ages of 18 and 28 – especially young people from disadvantaged households – for internships in manufacturing, public institutions and healthcare.

As Career Nexus CEO Kurt Madden puts it, “They don’t really think about going to a large manufacturer and asking for a job. Through internships, we’re helping them break into careers instead of these low-paying jobs that don’t have a future.” You can learn more at

I encourage other local businesses to consider investing in a year-round youth employment strategy with a focus on functional skills, access to local professional opportunities, career growth and mentorship. By doing so, we will not only improve the lives of young people, but also help grow our Fresno/Visalia economy, build a diverse talent pool of future professionals and strengthen the communities we call home.

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