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Thanks to federal stimulus money, 6,000 Missouri young people will get high-tech summer jobs

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2009 - Summer employment for many Missouri youngsters will include the usual work: mowing lawns, staffing concession and ticket stands at the Zoo and Six Flags; clerking at department and grocery stores; working in parks and recreation centers.

But 6,000 youngsters will find work in Missouri's so-called jobs of the future program. It's a measure of the economic conditions that the state was flooded with roughly 12,000 applicants for these jobs within a week after it announced the program.

The program is financed through $25 million in federal stimulus money from the Department of Labor. The money goes to businesses to hire young people, between the ages of 16 and 24, for summer jobs through Sept. 30.

While other states are getting similar grants, Missouri's program focuses on placing as many youngsters as possible in high-tech industries, says Scott Holste, spokesperson for Gov. Jay Nixon.

"That's what will make Missouri's program different," Holste says. "Mr. Nixon wanted to make this a program where we put young people in a position to get better, high-paying jobs down the road."

Here's how the program works: Businesses and prospective employees enroll for the program. The information ultimately goes to one of 17 boards around the state. Each board then matches up employers and applicants and negotiates salaries.

The average hourly wage is likely to be $8, Holste says, but students in college or with college degrees are likely to be paid more than 16-year-olds. Asked how these boards would select applicants, Holste said preference probably would be given to youngsters in families where the breadwinner has been laid off.

"We want the program to have the greatest impact on families that have been adversely affected by the economic downturn," he says.

The Nixon administration says the program provides one more boost to Missouri's economy, in addition to helping employers fill labor needs and youngsters earn money State officials say hundreds of businesses, including BJC HealthCare in St. Louis, already have signed up for the program.

Officials also say the program will help youngsters learn about high-tech employment opportunities, the skills needed to fill those jobs and the contacts for full-time work in these industries.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.