(Left to Right) SLATE Business Developer, Ken Riddick, with program participant, Antoine and Square HR Manager, Dione Turner
A high tech boom is accelerating in St. Louis, offering opportunities for tech-savvy workers from all backgrounds. Square, newly located at the heart of St. Louis’ Cortex District and its community of innovators, opened a customer service center to take advantage of local talent. The service industry requires intelligent, bright, responsible, self-motivated employees with a quality work ethic and superb people skills, along with at least entry-level technical skills. Square was certain such employees could be found within communities traditionally overlooked by tech sector recruiters.
Truly innovative and forward thinking, Square presented SLATE with an unprecedented project – creating a paid internship program for deserving youth from underserved urban African-Americans communities locally. The internships represented a chance not only to gain experience and skills in a fast-paced environment, but also the opportunity to be hired as a permanent member of Square’s team. Eager SLATE staff helped identify youth for this new enrichment opportunity.
With SLATE’s help, Square’s Dione Turner and Kimberly Radich, indentified 15 youth willing to enroll, and eight were placed in internships. For the next three weeks interns were at SLATE learning life skills/soft skills and computer skills, followed by 12-weeks of personalized on-the-job training in cooperation with mentors from Square. The professional mentors focused on long-term development and upstream thinking as well as serving as a ‘sidekick’ – always available to offer advice and reinforce an intern’s specific areas of concern.
Customer skills the interns developed included time management, patience, listening, learning on the fly, positive peer relationships and multi-tasking. All eight participants found the experience worthwhile and grew from it.
In late June 2016, two of the interns were hired by Square full-time. As with all staff at the facility, they were graded on performance, in part through customer surveys. One of them, Antoine, was rated a Top Performer in August.
The experience also turned out to be transformative for Square. Square told us that the program is undergoing a continuing process of refinement, but they are definitely looking to bring it to the other sites in California and New York in the future.
According to SLATE Director of Youth Services, Dr. Alice Prince, internship are sometimes offered to youth with minor offences. “Square has a transformational environment, ideas, and leadership,” she said. “They [Square] have a unique culture… a culture of community, inclusivity, acceptance, and respect for others.”
Such atmosphere of inclusiveness elevates overlooked youth, empowers them to become useful in their communities, and encourages problem solving. As a team, Square interns help create products and services that push boundaries and innovate businesses worldwide and support local economies.
They have opened the door of opportunity for young St. Louisans and SLATE is proud to continue the partnership.