“Entering the World of Work” by Connie Veates

By Connie Veates, Co-Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer, Trees Atlanta

This summer, Trees Atlanta was proud to launch its first job training program for high school students. Modeled after an initiative started in Indianapolis, the “Youth Tree Team” program provided a small hourly wage, free lunch, and professional development to students aged 15 to 19. Students learned how to take care of our urban forest by weeding and watering trees and plants along the Atlanta BeltLine and throughout the city. Each Friday they visited other nonprofits, companies, and universities to learn more about environmental issues and potential future green careers. For most of these students, it was their first paid job.

Most of us remember our first jobs. My first job in high school was as a cashier at Loehmann’s – a discount designer clothing store. I applied for the job because I wanted money to buy (what else) clothes. In retrospect, that job made a lot bigger contribution to my future than cute outfits.

First, it taught me how to compete. At that time there were more students looking for jobs than there were jobs available. I had to cope with multiple interviews and the humiliation of not getting my first attempt at employment at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Our Youth Tree Team applicants also learned to compete. There were three times as many candidates as there were positions, so students had to pass through three steps: a team-building, obstacle-type course, volunteering at one of our projects, and an interview. Those who made the cut were justifiably proud.