Donald Fry: Businesses must cultivate Baltimore’s youthful talent

 

By Donald C. Fry

More than 100 private-sector employers participated in Baltimore City’s new Hire One Youth jobs initiative this summer, with nearly 70 businesses placing 275 city youths in their work forces for summer jobs, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced last week.

“Baltimore has one of the most successful summer jobs programs in the nation,” she told a roomful of Hire One Youth employers and their student workers who had gathered at the Baltimore Museum of Industry on July 27 for a meet-and-greet to mark the final weeks of their summer employment.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake set a goal of doubling the number of participating employers next year.

“We cannot rest,” she said. “We must build on this program.”

Under this year’s inaugural Hire One Youth initiative – a part of the city’s broader YouthWorks summer jobs program – highly-motivated young people between 16 and 21 years of age were interviewed by private-sector employers and hired for six-week jobs.

Students gained employment in industries ranging from engineering, architectural design, accounting and law practices to catering, banking, investment, health care and commercial construction. The list of private-sector employers who participated is comprised of a cross-section of businesses and dozens of professions and occupations in the Baltimore region.

The Hire One Youth initiative was created earlier this year by Mayor Rawlings-Blake to increase exposure of city youth to occupations and professions in the private sector.

Previously, the city had received consistent financial support from the business community for its summer jobs program, but was able to place only a low number of youthful summer workers into private-sector jobs. Historically, most YouthWorks student participants have been placed within government agencies.

“This is not a charitable effort,” the Mayor told employers earlier this year as she sought to enlist them to participate in the Hire One Youth initiative and to place city youth in business workplaces, performing jobs and meeting the same performance expectations as for all other employees at the businesses.

At the mayor’s urging, the city’s Office of Employment Development set up a process where employers were presented with a pool of pre-screened, poised and well-prepared young people to interview for private-sector summer jobs. Student prospects were also matched with employers in occupational fields for which they expressed interest as potential career paths.

Feedback from participating employers has been positive, according to Karen Sitnick, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development.

“I’ve been talking to employers and every one of them has had marvelous things to say about their young workers,” she said.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake urged participating businesses to offer their young workers “options beyond the summer” where possible. A number of employers are doing just that, including Wells Fargo and Martin’s Caterers.

At Wells Fargo, Hire One Youth worker Amber Barner will continue at the bank as a teller.

Wells Fargo’s Maryland regional president Andrew Bertamini is a member of the Hire One Youth Leadership Team and an enthusiastic supporter of the summer jobs initiative. Exposure to business and a substantive employment experience can change a young person’s life, said Bertamini, who himself began his banking career as a teller.

Martin’s Caterers offered several of its summer student workers year-round employment, said owner Martin Resnick.

Engaging Baltimore’s future workforce is critically important, not just for the students, but for employers. Baltimore City’s 23,000 high school students represent a significant potential future workforce that must be aggressively cultivated by employers.

Underemployment of youth is emerging as a major workforce development challenge. In an era when employers anticipate having to fill an escalating number of future job openings – fueled by post-recession growth and retiring baby-boomers – they are increasingly complaining of a “skills gap” where they are unable to find capable workers to fill currently available jobs.

Youth workers are bearing the brunt of the recession-driven employment crisis, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international group that promotes policies to improve economic and social well-being.

A lack of jobs for workers between 15 to 24 years of age could create a “scarring effect” on their long-term career paths and future earnings prospects. In the United States, employment of young people ages 15-24 decreased from 53.9 percent in 2003 to 45 percent in 2010 – the largest decrease of any age group according to OECD.

In Baltimore, it’s imperative that business employers provide quality opportunities for young people to be exposed to real-world professional employment options, to develop their job skills and to afford them a first-hand look at the concept of entrepreneurship that drives the American way of life.

“Our kids are talented. They are smart and willing to take on challenges if given the opportunity,” said Marty Glaze, vice president of General Construction for Commercial Interiors and a Hire One Youth employer.

This year, the Hire One Youth initiative got off to a good start. It deserves a strong and expanding commitment by employers.

Our young people are tomorrow’s workforce. And there is no question we’re going to need them. It is imperative that the private sector take advantage of the Hire One Youth program to help educate and shape the future our next generation of workers.

 

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