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by Melissa Marcus

When you think of public health workers, do you picture teens? It might seem odd. But  work experience plays a large role in youth development. And CHER researchers and partners found new benefits when they worked with Black youth in rural North Carolina counties.

Teenage work experience is linked to personal growth. It helps resume building and leads to higher-paying future jobs. In appropriate jobs, teens learn valuable skills, time management and develop confidence in their abilities.

A new study in the Journal of Public Health Management finds that work programs also connect teens to their local communities. Young people learn about local resources and opportunities. At the same time, community members learn how skilled their young people are.

The new research also highlighted approaches to wage inequality. Wage gaps begin early and many teen development programs are unpaid. If more programs had paid work experience, it could help more underrepresented teenagers go on to college. That would eventually create a more diverse workforce.

“Youth from racialized and marginalized communities have often been excluded from internship and career-like work experience opportunities. Especially opportunities that build from their community’s assets and strengths,” said Leah Frerichs, lead researcher.

Public health programs for high schoolers are even more limited. And many of these programs haven’t studied their long-term impact or the participants’ experience.

That’s why the team partnered with organizations in rural Eastern North Carolina to understand the impacts of community, asset-based summer public health internship programs on Black youth.

Linda Joyner and Brian Ellerby, community partners and authors on the paper, noticed positive results for both the community and the students.

“The program helps the students understand about the businesses and role the businesses play in their community,” they said.

Joyner and Ellerby noted the pride the students felt for their work. And they shared that the community saw the professionalism the students presented.

The students also gained:

  • Meaningful employment opportunities.
  • Insight into how to perform community outreach and engagement in a professional manner.
  • Skills that could boost their resume.

Frerichs said that, “Although our study sample was relatively small and the methods were predominantly qualitative, it is one of few studies to rigorously evaluate and consider such impacts.”

Joyner and Ellerby want to see more programs like this one. They said, “OIC, Inc. of Rocky Mount, NC would like to see a greater involvement of more students from various parts of our community [and…] to include a greater number of our community’s businesses.”

This study gave the community insight into the community’s health, well-being and economic status. It can be a model for upcoming community research.

This knowledge will aid teens in their future community roles. By understanding needs and resources gaps, they have knowledge to bring about change.