Dominic Fracassa | Aug. 3, 2019 | San Francisco Chronicle
It was a sunny, uncommonly warm, late-July afternoon in San Francisco.
Across the city, thousands of kids savored the waning weeks of summer vacation, but Jaida Clark, 17, and Kaylani Kelley, 16, were back in class.
The class is part of their paid summer internship at Airbnb. The teens are among 30 high school interns, the first group to work at the tech company as part of the city’s inaugural Opportunities For All program, Mayor London Breed’s initiative to offer a paid summer job to any working-age student who wants one.
More than 3,800 students participated in the program this year, according to the mayor’s office, working in businesses, government departments and nonprofits of all stripes.
Given the ever-present tension between the businesses and City Hall, Opportunities For All also offers a small way for thriving companies to share the benefits of the city’s booming economy with its young people. The program arrives just as city politicians have moved to regulate and tax the city’s tech companies, asking them to give back to the place they’ve helped transform over the past 10 years.
Sitting two or three to a table in a room inside Airbnb’s Brannan Street headquarters, Jaida, Kaylani and the other students listened intently to a motivational speaker talk about the pitfalls that can limit achievement and long-term happiness. The speaker, Terry Fulton, listed several stumbling blocks on wraparound whiteboards. Among them, procrastination.
“You think Steve Jobs waited until the last minute to come out with the iPhone? I don’t think so. He was in the lab when everyone else was sleeping,” said Fulton, a representative from You Are a CEO, a life-coaching company.
The session was one slice of the curriculum Airbnb created after its executives agreed to participate in the mayor’s program. The four-week internship at Airbnb is meant to immerse students in workplace culture and share tips for professional development. It touches on how to improve public speaking skills, create a LinkedIn page and shake hands properly.
“It seems so simple, but we told them, ‘You’re about to shake a lot of people’s hands over the next few weeks,’” said Sarah Simon, a mobilization manager for public policy at the hospitality company. “We wanted to create a holistic experience.”
For Airbnb, the internship program not only helps students, but also signals the tech giant is doing its part to address inequality and other challenges that San Francisco faces.
The company has been at the center of a string of controversies that prompted city officials to rein it in, largely over concerns that it was turning homes into hotels in the middle of a housing crisis.
“If we want to be a good partner with the city, we need to participate in this internship program,” said Matt Middlebrook, head of policy and government affairs for Airbnb’s California operations. “We went straight to the CEO and it took all of about two minutes of convincing.”
“What other teenagers are working at a great company like this?” Jaida said. “Kids our age tend to limit ourselves. (Opportunities For All) is a big step to helping kids think outside the box. My older siblings never did stuff like this. They’re teaching us how to think long-term — that’s what we’re learning here.”
Kaylani said that many of her friends are working in shoe stores, or similar summer jobs.
“I mean, that’s fine, you’re getting some money,” she added. “But what happens after that? Are you going to stay in the shoe store? Get as much exposure as you need. You don’t want to have a job and not like it.”
Teens were hired under the program by about 100 different businesses, nonprofits and city departments this summer. Companies unable to take on interns could instead cut a check to the city to help pay $15-an-hour wages for student workers at government departments and nonprofits that don’t always have the budget for summer employees.
For Breed, a summer internship was transformational. She has previously called her early work experiences “essential” to her development, saying her exposure to unfamiliar environments helped her push past the limitations of growing up in poverty in the Western Addition. “And I want every kid in San Francisco to have that same opportunity,” she’s said.
Sheryl Davis, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission who is helping to lead the initiative, said the city is working with the University of San Francisco to collect data and assess demographics of program participants.
“We want to know zip codes and high schools and race and ethnicity breakdowns,” Davis said. “We know where our poorer neighborhoods are, where the (wealth) disparities are, and we want to make sure we were pulling from those communities.”
The city is also gauging what kids got out of their internship experiences — aside from the paycheck.
“Some kids in our community aren’t as confident,” Kaylani said. “People underestimate us and you start to underestimate yourself, especially being African American and female. Taking an opportunity like this, doing it, it shows so much. Take the opportunity while you can.”
Dominic Fracassa covers San Francisco City Hall for The Chronicle. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for the Daily Journal, a legal affairs newspaper. He started in news in his home state of Michigan, where he worked as a news director of 103.9 WLEN.