Group gets $500,000 to kick off paid internship program for low-income teens

President of Chattanooga's Public Education Foundation, Dan Challener, talks to reporters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2014.

The Public Education Foundation today kicks off a $500,000 initiative designed to train and connect low-income students to employers through paid summer internships.

Step-Up Chattanooga is aimed at tackling a crisis of disconnection in which Hamilton County Schools graduates are unprepared for most jobs in the community and half of the area's businesses are having trouble finding employees with the right skills for open positions.

In a recent report called Chattanooga 2.0, the Chamber of Commerce estimates there are now 15,000 jobs in Hamilton County that can't be filled by county residents based on education requirements. And officials found only 35 percent of local graduates earn any post-secondary credentials within six years, making them unqualified for the majority of jobs coming to the city.

The Chattanooga 2.0 report backed by the Chamber, the Benwood Foundation, Hamilton County Schools and the PEF challenged the community to be a part of the solution.