Washtenaw County seeks to scale up summer youth employment program in 2018

A successful summer youth employment program in Washtenaw County is hoping to double the number of young people served and is looking for more employers to participate.


The program, called Summer18 this year, started as a 10-week pilot program in 2016 with 26 businesses employing 50 youth in paid summer jobs. It was founded as a collaboration between Michigan Works Association and the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development. The University of Michigan (U-M) joined as a partner last year, and the number of youth employed increased to 75.


Shamar Herron, deputy director for Michigan Works Southeast, says that adding U-M brought "university-sized resources" to the program, including money and staff time. Various U-M departments also serve as employers in the program.


Julia Weinert, assistant director of U-M's Poverty Solutions, says her organization got on board with the summer employment program because the university believes these types of programs are effective in addressing the root causes of poverty.


"It's hard to find your first job as a young person," she says. "A lot of times, your parents will get you in with someone they know. But if you don't have that network and are coming from a place of minimal resources, an opportunity to get into a job is a huge first step that launches you into whatever you want to do, whether that's a specific career path or going to college."


This year, program organizers have an ambitious goal to serve 150 young people between 16 and 24.


Employers must commit to interviewing potential employees, and then providing training and orientation. They also have to commit to paying the participants $10 an hour for those without a high school degree and $12 an hour for those who do have a degree.


Participating youth must commit to attending an entire month of "soft skills" training before being matched with employers, and then working a minimum of 20 hours per week for the remainder of the summer program.


"The key message we want businesses to understand is that we're sending out a quality product in terms of these young people," Herron says. "We run them through a month's worth of soft skills like how to show up on time and communicate effectively, and how to dress appropriately."


Herron says the program tries to coordinate the interests of each youth with a summer employer, but sometimes, an exact match can't be made. Still, Herron says, every effort is made to make as close a match as possible and explain to the employee why they were paired with a particular business.


Benefits for participating youth are obvious, but there are upsides for employers as well, Herron says. Youth who are kept busy during the summer are less likely to get into trouble with the law, which is a benefit to the community as a whole. More specifically, youth who have a good experience with an employer are likely to talk about that workplace to friends and family, creating good public relations between the community and the employer, Herron says.


"This is our opportunity to help young people understand what it takes to go to work," Herron says. "If we don't do this, 20 years from now we'll be kicking ourselves over the missed opportunity to prepare the next generation of our workforce."


Interested youth and local business may apply to take part in the program here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photo courtesy of U-M.