Internships are key to helping a student choose a career path or land a full-time position upon graduation. Yet, many companies underestimate a students’ job-readiness. Thankfully, millennials Jessica Santana and Evin Robinson are on a mission to change an employer’s perspectives about hiring Gen Z high school students.
As the founders of New York On Tech (NYOT ), an award-winning organization, they have helped students land paid tech internships at major companies such as Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Accenture, and Bank of America. Plus, they have partnered with Facebook, Oath, Google, NBCUniversal and more, helping over 1,000 students to create a pathway in technology. “The students in our program are passionate about technology, but their interests and skills have not yet been fully developed, incubated, or accelerated,” said Santana. By default of the schools they go to or the communities they are from, a lot of times they do not have access to the quality curriculum or career mentors that can help them get to the next level. That is where we come in and provide them a tech talent accelerator program that prepares them for degrees, internships, and careers in the field and industry.”
Black Cosmopolitan: Since launching NYOT in 2014, what have you been most surprised to learn about Gen Z?
Evin Robinson: Gen Z is socially conscious and wants to make a big difference in the world. During our school year programs, you will notice most individual and group student projects are usually focused around a social cause, building a web application and/or mobile application to help better understand food, nutrition, cyberbullying, activism, healthcare, among others. They want to see change and are taking the steps to not only voice it but build solutions toward addressing and fixing them.
Jessica Santana: Students are starting to take their education and careers in their own hands, not just relying on their schools to prepare them for their futures. A few broad trends we are seeing include online and mobile learning, a movement toward skills-based and project-based curriculums, and a strong desire to pursue real work experiences prior to entering collegiate programs. This generation is very savvy, knows how to navigate the world wide web and, as a result, takes the initiative to either self-teach or enroll in resources that help them toward their futures. Not all opportunities for them are created equal across marginalized identities, but I believe there is a strong desire from them to be entrepreneurial, creative, and immersed in technology in ways that position them for competitive opportunities.
You launched NYOT to encourage more high school kids to get into tech early. During a time when many high school students spend the majority of their time on their phones, YouTube etc., what are the sides of tech that you’re exposing them to?
Robinson: So many students are on their phones and computers for hours, consuming content every day. We’re teaching them skills that move them away from just being the consumers of technology, but the creators of these inventions. We run courses on web development, mobile development, and UX/UI design. We will also be rolling out courses in the next few months around data science and analytics, product management, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. Aside from the hard technical skills in our program, our students are learning professional development skills around managing their personal brands, on the job success strategies, team-conflict resolution, interviewing etiquette techniques and résumé / cover-letter building.
Santana: Also, while Gen Z may seem to be on the phone for hours every day, they are not necessarily being positioned for opportunities in innovation. Over the next 10 years, more than 500K jobs will be added to the U.S. technology economy and we have the opportunity to help shape our nation’s talent strategy. Our goal is when students think about their interactions with technology, they will have the skills to critique it in ways that lead to the creation of bigger innovations with the tools and assets they have acquired in our programs. We believe they will eventually invent solutions that solve issues for the communities they are from in ways that are authentic and get to the root of systemic problems.
When it comes to hiring interns, what do you believe many companies underestimate about this group?
Robinson: What is uniquely different about our program is that we start providing our students with tech internships in high school. I think a lot of companies underestimate the level of talent students actually have at this age and stage of their career. However, we are helping to change that narrative by forging pathways for the young people in our programs. Since summer 2016 when we launched the internship program, 100% of companies rated our student’s skills above average or average. One hundred percent of our companies also expressed that they would recommend our students for future opportunities at their companies and 98% have returned every year to source additional interns. This highlights that with the right training and professional development, our students can and will succeed.
What do you believe are the keys to developing trusting relationships with mega brands so they hire NYOT’s students?
Santana: You have to show them that your students and talent pool can deliver. We host demo days where students showcase the work they have been doing in our programs. This includes both their individual and group projects and serves as an introduction to the work they can potentially produce for employers. Additionally, I think operational consistency, organizational excellence, and building out a referral program are important in your outreach strategy when developing trusting relationships with mega brands.