Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on May 22, 2015.
By Donald C. Fry
Among the long-simmering issues most often mentioned as contributing to neighborhood frustration, unrest and even violence in Baltimore City is employment opportunity.
The most recent census and employment data reinforce Baltimore’s need for long-term strategies and tactics to strengthen job growth and improve the workforce development framework in the city – particularly for young people.
While the overall unemployment rate in the state is 5.4 percent, it’s 8.1 percent in Baltimore City. Even more alarming is data that show unemployment in the city to be disproportionately high among the city’s youth – the workforce of tomorrow.
A quick look at a few disturbing numbers underscores the urgency of the youth employment need in the city. The overall unemployment rate for the city’s young people aged 20-24 is 22 percent, according to the most recent estimate from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The estimated unemployment rate for young people ages 16-19 is a mind-boggling 41 percent.
This brings me to my reason for writing this commentary. It’s to issue a call to action for employers in Baltimore City to consider participating in a city initiative – Hire One Youth – conducted jointly with the business community that specifically targets 16-21 year-olds, the young people in the city most in need of opportunities to experience private-sector employment.
Launched in 2012, the Hire One Youth program last year attracted 100 participating companies that hired 500 youths for summer jobs in the private sector. So far this year, 93 employers have committed to hiring more than 480 young people for jobs in a broad range of industry sectors including catering and hospitality, financial services, health care, legal, audio-visual production and construction, to name just a few.
This year, however, the need to connect Baltimore’s young people with career possibilities in the private sector has taken on an even more urgent importance. Many more young people have applied for summer jobs and want to work.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is urging employers to redouble their efforts to give these young people access to opportunities.
“Our children need exposure to different professions. And they need new hope for a world of possibilities,” the mayor told an audience of more than 850 business leaders at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Annual Meeting on May 11. “I humbly request that this summer you consider it a ‘Hire Two Youth’ initiative.”
For employers, participating in the Hire One Youth initiative makes good sense. Businesses are not assigned summer employees. Instead they interview summer job applicants and make hiring decisions based on the interviews. All Hire One Youth job applicants are pre-screened for skills and interests and must complete six hours of job readiness training before being referred to participating employers for job interviews.
Job coaches are available to summer employees. Employers have the option to put Hire One Youth directly on their payroll or to opt for Baltimore City as the employer of record.
Many business owners are asking me what they can do to help Baltimore recover from last month’s civil unrest. Participating in the Hire One Youth initiative is a straightforward, tangible and constructive option to nurture the development of our future workforce here and now.
Granted, resolving seemingly overwhelming economic and quality of life challenges the city faces will require long-term attention and community collaboration.
But participation in the Hire One Youth initiative gives employers an immediate “starfish” option.
Like the solitary man on the beach who was told he couldn’t possibly make a difference in helping tens of thousands of stranded starfish announced after he picked up a starfish and threw it back into the sea, employers can truly say: “I made a difference to that one.”
Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.