How Minneapolis Parks Hire Hundreds of Youth Workers Every Summer
In 2022, the Minneapolis park system employed nearly 900 youth workers. Steve Skjold /

How Minneapolis Parks Hire Hundreds of Youth Workers Every Summer

With the help of outreach programs and regular funding, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board says its seasonal youth employment has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

What worker shortage? As businesses across the state struggle to maintain adequate staffing levels, the Minneapolis parks system says it’s having no trouble finding hundreds of temporary youth workers for the summer.

With over 180 park properties, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) maintains that it’s the largest employer of youth in the city.

The board defines youth as anyone aged 14-24. For many youth workers, the parks system is their first job.

Prior to the pandemic in 2019, the park system’s youth employment was at an all-time high, with a total of 917 employees in the age range. When the pandemic hit in 2020, numbers plummeted to 495, but they have since crawled back up to 711 in 2021, and most recently, 891 in 2022.

How does the park system pull in that many workers each year? MaryLynn Pulscher, who serves as the board’s environmental education manager, attributes high employment levels in part to an abundance of youth programs. She points to Teen Teamworks, an employment and training initiative program for kids ages 14-18. The program previously relied on grant funding, but it’s now a regular part of the park board’s budget.

“With this steady funding that we have now in the base budget and not being reliant almost entirely on grants, that has made a huge difference,” says Pulscher.

Recruiting for summer jobs typically starts in March and continues throughout the spring so that staff members can be prepared to work in June. Full-time staff at MPRB help generate interest in parks programming year-round, says Pulscher, with buildings like recreation and community centers open all year.

“We have 47 rec centers throughout our parks system, so we are like the fabric of the community,” says parks board superintendent Al Bangoura. Those living close to the facilities are able to walk to them to find job opportunities. “We have staff in these buildings who know the young people and connect with them.”

Many permanent parks employees started their own careers in the Minneapolis park system and encourage kids to get their own career paths started there. “Those initial job experiences really have the opportunity to open kids’ eyes to potential jobs,” says Pulscher. “There’s a fair percentage of adults who work for Minneapolis parks that started out in Teen Teamworks.”

Diverse outreach is another component to the system’s high youth employment levels, as well, with recruitment teams operating out of North Commons, Folwell, Harrison, and many other parks, says Pulscher. The programs are designed to reach youth living nearby, so that upon recruitment, employees can easily access their place of work. Equity grants from Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission help with the mission and enable MPRB to team up with linguistically and culturally specific professionals to reach a more diverse population.

It doesn’t hurt that many youth workers end up returning each summer. Some even come back from college to work the parks.

“We develop young people from their entry to the workforce when they’re 14 years old, all the way to the time that hopefully we can hire them back into the parks, or we’ve given them really great experience around green job exposure,” says Bangoura. “We work to serve the public. We work to serve the people. And our young people are a part of our community.”

The park system’s youth employment numbers fit into the broader trend for teen workers. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, teen employment has essentially returned to pre-pandemic levels across the state. In July 2019, 38.4% of Minnesota teens were employed. Though it fell to 32.3% during 2020, it returned to 38.4% as of July 2022.