With cold winter winds still blowing up and down the Charles River, it may seem far too early to begin thinking about summer. Not for Amy Meyer, Community Outreach manager in the Office of Human Resources and program manager for Harvard’s new Summer Teen Employment Program (STEP).
Meyer has already begun laying the groundwork for the approximately 100 Cambridge and Boston teenagers who will work at Harvard during their upcoming summer break. The advance preparation is something that Meyer hopes will benefit everyone involved in the program.
“We are starting earlier this year so the units will be able to budget for it and plan for it and devise summer jobs that will be meaningful, both for them and for the participants,” she says. “The summer vacation time is a good time to have kids fill in, but the specific assignments for them need to be planned.”
Teen job programs have been in existence at Harvard for many years, but this is the first time they’ve been brought together under a cohesive organizational structure with an aggressive timeline. Robert Amelio, director of Diversity and Organizational Development at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and STEP administrator at HMS, has noticed a significant difference in how the effort is being coordinated this year.
“This is the first time the program has been this organized, this planned in advance with an actual schedule of what’s going to be happening between now and October,” he says. “STEP will help us identify managers who need teen employees for the summer far in advance so that we can work with them to prepare for a positive experience for all.”
According to Meyer, STEP’s ambitious schedule calls for schools and departments to begin now to identify those jobs that will be available come summer. In April, the matching process will begin so that most of the placements can be made in May. Most of the teens will begin work in late June or early July.
“By doing advance planning and by identifying departments where the teens can work, the managers will have a better chance to help them succeed,” Amelio states. “They are the ones who can figure out the type of work the teens can do and begin lining up projects so that when the STEP participants come in, there’s more of a focus and a plan for the summer.”
Participating teens are referred to Harvard by several city agencies in Boston and Cambridge. They are matched to jobs that suit their interests – anything from data entry to administrative support to landscaping – and they usually work full time, with pay, for approximately eight weeks.
“To be a high school kid and to convert yourself into a productive member of the workforce is a challenge,” Meyer explains. “Teens need to think about the education they might need and their future occupations … and this is a very interesting place to do that.”
The teenagers, however, aren’t the only ones who gain by the summer work experience.
“It’s very important for Harvard to get involved for two reasons,” Meyer says. “First, because we want to be a good neighbor as a large employer in our host communities. Second, because these are kids who might become our future employees. … Also, STEP is a source of diversity for us. It enriches our workplace. It really is a win/win/win for everybody.”
In addition to planning for the summer program, Meyer recently launched a weekly Employment Office information session titled “How to Job-Hunt Effectively at Harvard,” held every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Harvard Information Center in the Holyoke Center arcade.
“The session is primarily for residents of our host communities, Cambridge and Boston, but they’re open to everyone,” Meyer explains. “We provide information about Harvard and about our HIRES job bank (www.hr.harvard.edu/employment), and provide some tips on resume writing and interviewing.”
A recent Employment Office information session attracted more than a dozen job seekers from surrounding communities, including Carl Thien of Cambridge, who is looking for a Web design position. “What attracts me is the location, plus I believe Harvard would be a really good place to work,” he said. “I understand they take very good care of their people here.”
“I’ve started writing letters to apply for jobs, but I just figured why not come in and connect with a real person,” said another interested job candidate who attended the session. “That seems to be a good way to gauge whether or not the job is worthwhile to pursue.”
During the hour-long session, Meyer urged the prospective employees to invest time and energy in researching potential jobs, identifying those positions they’d be most qualified for, and marketing themselves to potential employers. “Job hunting is a lot of work,” she told them. “It is very stressful for most people. Approach it as a serious project and manage it for the results you want.”
Meyer believes the information sessions can alleviate some of the anxiety and reduce the intimidation job seekers experience when they seek employment in a university setting.
“It’s giving people who are coming in cold a basic orientation on how to job hunt here,” she says. The result could be a greater number of talented Boston and Cambridge residents on the Harvard payroll in the years to come.