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More than 60 businesses, organizations and nonprofit groups have committed to hiring Hamilton County high school students for paid internships this summer through the Public Education Foundation's program STEP-UP Chattanooga.

But Jeff Rector, PEF's business partnerships manager, said the foundation is still looking for about 20 more businesses who can hire interns beginning in June. STEP-UP places low-income students in internships at local businesses and organizations and provides work-readiness training for students throughout the spring before their summer internships.

The obligation that comes with hiring an intern includes 20 to 30 hours of work a week for six weeks over the summer. Rector said they have over 200 students signed up for the program, but the goal is to get at least 150 interns placed in the program's third year.

"We don't promise jobs, but all of (the students) will get an interview," he said.

STEP-UP Chattanooga is in its third year and is based on a similar program in Minneapolis that has served 20,000 students since its launch in 2003. Usually businesses hire just one or two interns for the summer, but Rector said some of the bigger employers in town, like Electric Power Board, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Unum and all the hospitals each hire anywhere from five to 10 students.

Organizations that can't hire an intern due to lack of space or a workload can sponsor an internship at another business that might really need the help but can't afford it, Rector said.

"It's geared toward low-income students – an underrepresented population that typically don't have this opportunity," he said.

"Not only that but employers are developing a pipeline for their own business and developing a workforce for the community," Rector added.

Sybil Topel, vice president of communications for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber actively encourages its members to participate in STEP-UP program because it gives students the skills they need to enter the workforce.

"And they might very well discover a new career path or develop a new talent they didn't know they had through the internship," she said.

Rector said there is no deadline, but typically employers conduct interviews in May and hire interns to begin working in June. Businesses interested can sign up at PEF's website, stepupchattanooga.org.

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.

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