2019 was the most successful year yet for a summer youth employment and training program run by the University of Michigan, Michigan Works! Southeast, and Washtenaw County.
The 10-week program, called Summer19, ran from June 17 to Aug. 23. It offered its young participants free "soft skills" training before placing them in part-time summer jobs at an hourly wage of $10-$12.
Shamar Herron, deputy director of Michigan Works! Southeast, says over 100 young people and about 60 employers participated this year – the highest participation since the program started in 2016. Herron attributes a large part of the increased success to the dedication of the program's business allies.
"We had some great partnerships that allowed us to enhance our business partnerships, particularly in Ypsilanti," Herron says. "We were also able to work with a lot of startups that collaborate with Ann Arbor SPARK. That was great for our young people, because it allowed them to get in on the ground floor of all aspects of business management."
He reports that this year's employers were particularly mindful mentors who came to the table with an understanding that many of the young participants were getting their first job experiences through the program.
"We had a great batch of businesses that really mentored our young people with care and made them feel welcome and part of a team," Herron says.
A direct result was that many students and employers both had a rewarding and enjoyable experience – as evidenced by the fact that 15% of the young participants have been retained as employees past the program's end.
There are already plans to make next year's program even better.
"We are going to cap the program at 125 young people so that we have a space and place for everyone that comes into the program regardless of experience and ability. It will allow us to achieve the right support for all participants," Herron says.
Next year's initiative will also see the debut of a tiered system with two or three levels of entry depending on a student's age and previous job training and experience. This will ensure better student-employer matching – someone with no experience won't be put into an advanced position, for instance.
Additionally, there will be a push to bring more private-sector companies on board.
"We will be focusing on this with a laser-like intensity. We want these companies to know that Summer19 is a gateway to building their talent pipeline," Herron says. "If they want to expose the community to who they are as a business and if they have a special summer project, then we will have the young hands and minds to help them."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Shamar Herron.