by John Titkanich, City Manager, Cocoa
During a community meeting held in summer 2015, residents spoke of the City’s former summer jobs program for the youth. The summer youth employment program had fallen victim to budget shortfalls and a general belief the City was not benefiting from employing students during the summer due to low participation. The program had not been funded in more than seven (7) years. While the fiscal year 2016 budget process was well underway, the City included funding for a summer youth program for the upcoming 2016 year.
City of Cocoa staff set out to design the Cocoa Works program to ensure it would provide meaningful opportunities for students to not only experience firsthand a career in public service, but also to work for and contribute to their own community. Specific program goals were established which included:
- Provide Cocoa youth a meaningful summer employment opportunity.
- Invest in Cocoa’s youth to develop their employability skills and address systemic issues of poverty and unemployment.
- Assist in the strategic issue of community development to help young disadvantaged citizens receive an opportunity to gain experience in a public service position.
- Provide a career path for regular full-time positions upon graduation from High School.
The City of Cocoa worked with CareerSource Brevard to create a summer youth employment program for high school juniors and seniors. In addition to exposing students to public service, the five (5) week program was designed to provide youth in our community the skills and knowledge needed as they think about life after high school. While we wanted to show these youth the opportunities that exist in local government and the opportunities that exist in their own community, the City also wanted to ensure the students had the knowledge to help them enter the workforce.
Eligibility criteria included that students must be a resident of Cocoa; enrolled in Cocoa or Rockledge High School in good standing as a junior or senior; be at least 16 years old; make a commitment to fully participate in the program; have a desire to develop and utilize financial, work readiness and work experience skills; and have the ability to provide or arrange his or her own transportation. An important component of the program was it was needs-based, preference was provided to students in low- and moderate-income families.
The program began with a week of employment skills training led by CareerSource Brevard, where students were taught how to write a resume, how to have a successful job interview, how to dress for the job interview, and much more. After the week long training, students presented their resumes and were interviewed by the hiring managers at the City. Students were then matched with their ideal positions within the City. Students worked a twenty-five (25) workweek for the remaining four (4) weeks of the program.
City management encouraged each department to participate and to provide real-life public sector work experiences, and not just an intern experience of running copies, scanning documents and filing. Positions ranged from working in Information Technology, Economic Development, Public Relations, Public Works Maintenance, Engineering, Utilities and so much more throughout the entire City. One challenge the City faced was placing students in certain departments and jobs due to workplace safety regulations as well as working in high risk jobs such as frontline public safety positions.
The program was a huge success. A “graduation” for more than twenty (20) students was held at the July 26th Cocoa City Council meeting where students and managers were given the opportunity to speak about their experiences of the program. Both the students and the City learned a lot from the program, and we’re excited to be able to continue this program this upcoming summer.
Click here for the Cocoa Works flyer.