Summer jobs and internships have profound impacts on our young people. They create pathways to strong futures. Talk to any of the thousands of Boston professionals who came up through the City’s schools, and they will tell you that a summer job is more than about providing a paycheck. It’s about providing opportunities—opportunities that could change lives.

We need these now more than ever. The times we are living in are shining a light on the most enduring problems of our society. We must continue to put equity at the forefront of everything we do—especially in how we support our young people and their futures. Summer jobs and internships are powerful tools that we must continue to utilize, as we work to lift up all of our young people, from every corner of our city.

Boston has led the nation in providing private sector jobs and internships for high school students, as part of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program. Every year, we work to grow this program, to engage more students and employers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted summer internship plans for many high school and college students here in Boston, and all across the country. This loss of onsite internship experiences is disappointing. But it doesn’t have to mean that students will face a shortage of opportunities to develop skills, learn about careers with Boston’s largest employers, and earn paychecks this summer.

That’s why we challenge our private employers to think creatively about how to engage with young people this summer. Think about how you can connect with our young people virtually, and provide them with meaningful professional experiences. In these trying times, these positive opportunities for growth are critically needed.

It’s encouraging to see many major summer jobs partners already stepping up to meet this challenge. John Hancock and Vertex are sustaining their commitments to Boston high school students and the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program by hiring and paying students to participate in virtual programming. As part of its MLK Scholars program, John Hancock plans to hire 40 students directly and provide funding to support the wages of nearly 600 more at local non-profit organizations. Vertex expects to hire 40 students and engage them in STEM learning and professional development activities. Both organizations partner with the Boston Private Industry Council to recruit and match interested high school students with our employer-supervised internships and to support them through the summer experience. Hospitals, such as Mass General, Dana Farber, and Boston Children’s, are also major employers of teens, and are planning virtual programming as well.

Boston employers are providing virtual work and learning experiences in a couple of different ways. Across employers, we are seeing two primary models emerge: a virtual internship model in which students work remotely under direct supervision of a supervisor, and a professional development and academic enrichment model in which students will participate in online training and courses, and work on individual and group projects under the direction of program staff and mentors. Some employers will likely offer a hybrid of these two models as well as career exploration opportunities.

Boston’s private sector jobs program brings benefits for both students and employers. These jobs are often our young people’s first taste of professional accomplishment. For employers and their full-time employees, these are opportunities to engage our bright and diverse student population in potential career paths in their industries, and some students even return as college interns and full-time hires. These experiences also open doors for mentorship, with employers guiding students in developing a strong work ethic, good values, and big plans for their futures.

Summer jobs also help students earn paychecks to support themselves and their families. In 2019, over $4 million in employer-paid wages were earned by BPS high school students during the summer months. For young people who live in low-income areas or have a lack of support in their lives, a good part-time job can have a wonderful impact on their lives and make a difference, by increasing their confidence and putting them on the track to success.

The summer months are often cited as the most unequal time of the year for the academic and skills development of K-12 students. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to deepen learning loss and widen socioeconomic disparities. That’s why this is not only an education problem, but also a workforce development challenge. It requires creative public-private partnerships to address it. We want summer jobs to help close the opportunity gap and launch our young people toward their dreams.

In the fall, we will share lessons learned from this experiment with virtual internships for high school students. While we hope to return to onsite experiences next summer, we intend to use these lessons from this summer to help develop best practices for incorporating project-based learning, professional development, and academic enrichment in work-based learning programs to help in the future.

Summer jobs are positive experiences that every young person should have, especially as they move through their teenage years and into adulthood. It’s how we support our young residents, giving them a chance, and help prepare them—and our City’s future workforce—for success. Through our collective efforts, this can still be a summer of opportunity for Boston’s high school students. We hope you’ll join us.
To get involved with the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program, visit the city’s website.

Martin J. Walsh is mayor of Boston; Dr. Jeffrey Leiden is executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Marianne Harrison, is president and CEO of John Hancock.