Are you ready to step up for youth in our community? I hope you are. The Minneapolis youth employment program Step Up needs volunteers to help with mock interviews March 18 to 21 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. You’ll help our future workforce practice firm handshakes, eye-contact and other terrifying interactions with adults before they move into summer jobs and beyond. Business exec? Full-time parent? Retiree? Perfect. Director Anna Peterson wants about 400 of you. You’ll get trained on-site (10 minutes; you’ve got this) before meeting four or five young people for 15-minute conversations. “People leave with a sense of hopefulness,” Peterson said. The youth, of course. But, more so, you.


Q: First, thank you for uttering that joyful word, summer — as in summer jobs. When do the teens start?

A: Their job skills training has already begun. The upcoming mock interviews are a culmination of that. We match them with jobs in May and work begins June 17 for nine weeks.


Q: Speaking of jobs, Step Up has created quite a few.

A: We work with about 1,500 interns a year, ages 14 to 21. Since 2003, when Mayor R.T. Rybak started Step Up — run by the city of Minneapolis in partnership with Achieve­Mpls, CareerForce Minneapolis and Project for Pride in Living — we’ve created more than 27,000 internship opportunities with nearly 200 companies, public agencies and nonprofits across 17 industries. Last summer, our interns cumulatively earned $3.3 million.


Q: How does that break down as an hourly wage?

A: The younger youth receive a training wage, which is 85 percent of the current minimum wage, so that’s $10.50 an hour. The older youth earn $12.25 an hour.


Q: What might volunteers expect during the mock interviews?

A: We do a minimal training for all our volunteers which takes about 10 minutes. We have sample questions and a reflection guide. It’s really easy. The interviewing is super inspiring, fast, focused and fun. The adult meets four or five youths throughout the night for 15 minutes each. The goal is to help the youth practice interviewing and offering practical suggestions, like demonstrating a firm handshake or reminding the youth to look up while speaking. The youth gets to ask questions during the last 5 minutes. As the interviewer, you get to see many young people impressing you in that space. They’re nervous, but they rise to the occasion. They’re ready to work and eager and excited. It makes you want to post some jobs and hire them.


Q: Who is a good fit to step up and volunteer for mock interviews? Are you seeking any professions or industries in particular?

A: Anybody can do it. Each year, my dad, who is a retired company vice president, comes. Parents can come and volunteer. You just need to have an openness to wanting to give feedback to youth and a willingness to practice interviewing with them.


Q: Why is the Step Up program so important to the youths you serve?

A: When I first see young people, they’re nervous. Two weeks into their summer jobs, there’s a paradigm shift to “I can do this.” You see this empowerment because you are what you know. They see a vision of what they want to be and what they are capable of. Sometimes they love the industry they choose. Sometimes, they say, “Next summer, I want to try something different.” They benefit from professional mentors who guide them through the process, somebody who is there to say, “I can help with that.” It’s real world knowledge and building relationships. It’s that social capital, so that when they do leave that job, oftentimes we hear years later, “I’m still in touch with my Step Up supervisor who is still helping me navigate the professional world.”


Q: Are the teens responsible for getting themselves to and from work?

A: Yes, we’re giving the majority of them a Metro Transit card, but we also try to place the younger students in jobs closer to their homes so they’ll be more successful. They can ride their bikes. The older youth take the train or bus. We are thinking about travel when we match them in their positions.


Q: A lot has been written about millennials and their different approach to work. Are you finding challenges in this regard?

A: Before the mock interviews, they get six hours of training. We talk a lot about what it is like to enter a professional environment. Put your phone away, show up on time with a great attitude, dress appropriately, gum out, phone away, hood down or hat off. We teach them how to write a professional e-mail, how to answer the phone. Some of those things are very basic, but if you’ve never had a job experience, these are very important things to learn.

In addition to those challenges, we are working with youth born in 35 countries who speak 24 languages. They’re the most diverse group and they’re going to our employers, who sometimes aren’t. Throughout the summer, both they and their supervisors have a job coach helping to make the internship successful.


Q: Your first summer job?

A: At 15, I worked at a restaurant in Burnsville called the Flour Bin. I was a food runner. Sometimes, I washed dishes. It taught me a lot and I loved getting a paycheck. But I knew I didn’t want to continue doing that kind of work.


To volunteer for Step Up mock interviews, go to or call 612-455-1561.