Summer jobs programs are a proven way to get youths who otherwise would lack entry points into the workforce connected to paid work opportunities, mentoring, and professional training. Cities across the country use youth-targeted interventions, such as youth workforce development initiatives, to make an impact on the long-term trajectory of young people. A research study conducted in Chicago has shown that summer jobs programs dramatically reduce violent crime in the communities they serve, in addition to providing youth with professional work opportunities and financial means.
In addition, summer youth employment programs expand the city’s workforce and immediately produce new consumers who will spend their summer earnings in their very own backyards, fueling local economies. In 2017 alone, the Urban Affairs Coalition’s Summer Youth Employment program connected more than 1,400 youths to education and training opportunities, and participants collectively accumulated more than 145,000 hours of on-the-job work experience and $1 million in earned wages.
Over the past several years, the youth unemployment rate in Philadelphia has averaged between 14 and 16 percent. For young people of color, those rates have been considerably higher – by at least 10 percentage points. Moreover, Philadelphia experiences a higher proportion of out-of-school, out-of-work youths compared with national averages (20 percent vs. 12 percent). Philadelphia’s youth deserve more. They deserve greater investments in training and mentorship to set them, and our city, up for future success.
Mayor Kenney recently released his administration’s plan to address the issue of workforce development through a citywide strategy, Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, which aims to align workforce training to the needs of employers in order to secure more long-term, family-sustaining employment for Philadelphia residents. A key component of that plan is to expand the number of high-quality summer jobs for youths, from 10,000 to 16,000 by the end of the mayor’s first term in 2020.
WorkReady Philadelphia, managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) and operated by more than 50 service providers, including the Urban Affairs Coalition, is a local difference maker. Serving more than 9,000 young people across Philadelphia each summer, WorkReady provides scores of eager youths a chance to showcase their abilities. However, roughly 18,000 youths apply for summer jobs annually in Philadelphia, which means that a significant pool of talent is going untapped each year. Moving the needle on poverty in Philadelphia requires taking advantage of the wealth of talent that we have at our disposal.
Investing in young people is good for business, and it is good for the future prosperity of Philadelphia. In addition to the deep impact mentorship and professional training has on the lives of young people, an investment in youths offers returns for businesses in the form of strong recruitment pipelines and fresh talent. Philadelphia businesses can step up by hiring younger workers. Consider hosting high school interns over the summer and serving as mentors to our city’s young people. Give Philadelphia’s youth a shot at long-term economic success by providing them with meaningful opportunities early on in their careers.
Summer jobs make a difference. Capitalizing on students’ summer months to build professional experience and provide important life-skills training produces tremendous impact on their ultimate career development. Through summer employment, young people learn how to develop positive relationships with adults, they become exposed to a variety of industries and make better informed career choices, and they gain the tools to become leaders in their schools and communities. Summer jobs is the first rung on the ladder to career success and by investing in Philadelphia’s youth, businesses can help ensure a bright future for our city. Business leaders, consider hiring youths this summer, and make a lasting difference for Philadelphia’s young people.
Sharmain Matlock-Turner is the president and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition.