4 Questions With Jamba Juice's CEO

Illustration for article titled 4 Questions With Jamba Juice's CEO

Last fall, when President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act, one of his goals was to lay the groundwork for a 2012 youth summer-jobs program. The bill included state funding to support summer employment for low-income youths between the ages of 16 and 24, a provision modeled after similar funding from the Recovery Act. According to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, that investment provided more than 367,000 jobs in 2009 and 2010, and approximately 40 percent of participants were African American.


But Congress voted down the American Jobs Act. To bypass the opposition, Obama announced on Thursday a partnership between the federal government and private sector aimed at creating 250,000 work opportunities for disadvantaged youths. Under the banner of "Summer Jobs+," Obama challenged corporations, nonprofits and government agencies to hire youths or provide internships and mentorships connecting them to work experience. So far, businesses including Bank of America, Gap Inc. and Viacom have signed on with commitments that add up to 180,000 jobs for low-income youths.

While Secretary Solis maintained that these are new job opportunities, some Republicans are accusing the White House of taking credit for jobs and internships that would have been created anyway. But at least one company that has pledged to create additional jobs is Jamba Juice, which committed to 2,500 youth hires this summer. The Root spoke with James D. White, Jamba Juice president and CEO, about how the company is rising to the challenge, the agenda of a White House summit on Thursday about the initiative and why he thinks summer job benefits extend beyond a few months of work.

The Root: How did the White House approach you with this challenge?

James D. White: This is actually the second year running for us. They had a similar challenge a year ago, and we made a commitment then to add incrementally 2,500 summer jobs. We ended up exceeding that by 200 jobs and hired 2,700 additional young people. While they had some success with the push a year ago, this year's initiative will be far more extensive, with gains from even more companies, and we're back again with another pledge of 2,500 hires.

We've also worked with the labor secretary, who visited our headquarters and exposed us to an advanced culinary program under Jobs Corps. We created an internship program for those students, which now has its second set of participants going through it. This year we're planning to create a program to source some of the kids from the Job Corps culinary program into permanent roles throughout the company.

TR: How has Jamba Juice ensured that these jobs go to low-income youths?

JDW: We source the youth in the communities where we do business. We have 750 units in many urban areas, so it's a natural fit for us, and our partnerships with organizations like Job Corps gives us access to students who are most in need of summer jobs. Additionally, for 20 years we've been very focused on inspiring healthy living with an emphasis on underserved urban communities.


TR: The White House has been somewhat secretive about the "Summers Jobs+" summit on Thursday. What will you all be doing there exactly?

JDW: A critical part of the discussion will be how to engage folks in underserved communities, and developing creative ways of getting young people to work. I'll be participating in a plenary panel with national leaders like Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza and Alma Powell of America's Promise Alliance to discuss what corporations, national nonprofits and the White House can do to prepare young people. There's also going to be a panel of youth 19 and 20 years of age on what they would like corporations and nonprofits to do to help them.


TR: What broader benefits do you see for temporary summer jobs, which for the most part don't address long-term unemployment?

JDW: The real-life skills that come out of summer exposure. We provide intensive training for all of our employees, where they learn about customer service, nutrition and healthy lifestyles, and work experience to put on their résumé as they move forward.


Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.