Donald Fry: Mayor’s summer jobs program is opportunity-driven

By Donald C. Fry

The Pew Center for the States, recently reported that elected leaders around the country are recognizing the nation’s 8 percent unemployment rate isn’t simply about too few jobs, it also relates to a workforce that may not be trained to fill the ones that are available.

This “structural unemployment” mismatch has put worker-training programs on the agendas of many state and local government leaders, Pew’s Stateline.org reports.

For Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, training the city’s workforce starts with the basics – acclimating the city’s 23,000 high school students to the career opportunities that exist in the private sector.

That’s why the mayor recently launched “Hire One Youth,” a new signature initiative of YouthWorks, the city’s long-time summer jobs program.

Here’s the issue for Rawlings-Blake. Though private-sector employers in the city and region have consistently supported YouthWorks with financial contributions, they have placed a comparatively low number of youth workers in their own workplaces during the summer. Up until now, most YouthWorks student participants have been placed within government agencies.

The “Hire One Youth” program is designed specifically to change that trend. In essence, this year, the mayor is asking for more than just financial support from businesses. She’s asking businesses to place highly-motivated and well-prepared high school juniors and seniors into six-week summer jobs in their own private-sector workplaces.

“It is vital that Baltimore’s business community take an active role in employing our young citizens this summer,” says Rawlings-Blake. “This is not a charitable effort. These young men and women are poised and ready to contribute to the offices, hospitals, financial institutions and production facilities that fuel our local economy.”

Here’s how the Hire One Youth program works. Local employers can commit to hiring at least one youth this summer by completing an online form or calling the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development at 410-396-JOBS (5627).

Employers who sign onto the Hire One Youth initiative will be provided with a pool of pre-screened, qualified young people to interview for jobs starting June 25 and ending August 3 that pay $1,200 for the summer. Employers then select applicants who best meet their summer employment needs. Employers are asked to conduct the job interviews, and to set on-the-job performance expectations in the same manner as for any employee.

Employers will have the option of either placing the youth employees directly on their payrolls or making a $1,200 payment to the Baltimore City Foundation/YouthWorks, who will pay wages to Hire One Youth student employees.

Job coaches will be assigned to each hiring organization to answer questions and serve as a direct link to the YouthWorks program. Throughout the summer, job coaches will visit work sites to provide support for employees and to ensure a productive summer experience.

So far, 42 businesses have committed 142 positions to the Hire One Youth program. Many more private-sector summer opportunities are needed for bright, talented and eager young people. Current private-sector participants on the leadership team for Hire One Youth include William L. Jews, chairman of Ryland Homes; Sandra S. Hillman, CEO of Sandy Hillman Communications; Richard J. Himmelfarb, chairman of investment banking, Stifel Nicolaus & Company; and Andrew Bertamini, regional president, Wells Fargo Bank.

Benefits for the young summer employees are two-fold. First, they will gain valuable exposure to a private-sector business environment. Second, they will gain important perspectives about their education options after high school.

Many will likely want to go on to college, particularly to pursue science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) subjects, which would make them highly-employable in tomorrow’s workforce. Others may identify certificates and A.A. programs to enable them to acquire valuable insight into occupations they may enjoy. Graduates with some college or an associate’s degree are eligible for an increasing number of middle-skill jobs in sales and office support, as well as in information, computer and math sciences.

Private-sector summer jobs will help bright young people sift through the myriad of options in today’s changing workforce.

The Hire One Youth initiative is a program that needs to be embraced by the local business community. Last year, the Greater Baltimore Committee, after consulting with economic development professionals and business CEOs about key components for a strong business climate, issued a report entitled “Gaining a Competitive Edge: Key Pillars to Economic Growth and Job Creation.” Not surprisingly, one of the ingredients for a competitive business environment was a “workforce that is highly-educated and meets Maryland’s business needs.”

For businesses, benefits of participating in Hire One Youth can be substantial. Employers get a unique opportunity to interview and handpick qualified young people who have displayed an interest and aptitude in a particular field. Through the student’s summer job performance, employers can identify the capacity of our future workforce to meet our business needs and suggest areas of improvement. Likewise, business can identify talented prospects for bringing back later as college interns or, potentially, as full-time employees after completing their educations.

Businesses get a first-hand look at the future workforce and young people get an opportunity to see what it takes for them to be successful in the private-sector workforce. It’s a true “win-win” situation for all involved.

Despite today’s elevated unemployment statistics, employers face substantial workforce challenges in the near future. By 2018, employment growth and retiring baby-boomers will have created more than 900,000 job vacancies in Maryland. By then, 36 percent of jobs in our state will require either a bachelor’s or graduate degree, and almost 30 percent will be so-called “middle skills” jobs that require less than a four-year college degree but more than a high school education, studies show.

For businesses in Baltimore City, workforce development efforts must start right here and now – at home.

This year, summer jobs aren’t just about getting Baltimore’s youth off of the streets. They’re about inspiring our city’s young people and giving them a genuine glimpse of their potential futures as professionals in a private sector that, for them will be teeming with opportunity.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Facing the tide of opposition to transportation funding

Governing between fiscal extremes in Annapolis

Transportation legislation not the only issue on business radar in Annapolis

Protecting transportation fund: not a magic bullet, but still needed

MDOT’s $12 billion list: top transportation priorities of Maryland counties

Better rail connectivity could drive residential rebound in Baltimore City

Talking past each other in Annapolis

Government and business teamwork: an essential prerequisite for economic growth