By Donald C. Fry
All business owners and managers face a fundamental question: Where will my future workforce come from?
In Baltimore City, one answer seems obvious – from among the 23,000 students currently attending city high schools and the recent graduates now attending two and four-year colleges and universities. But converting this major potential talent pool into a first-resort workforce of the future must overcome a major challenge these days – chronic underemployment of youth.
Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nationally, only about half of young people 16-24 held jobs in 2011.
In today’s tight job market, many entry-level jobs that young people once counted on to start their careers now go to older, more experienced workers or to overqualified job-seekers with some college experience, according to the report.
In Baltimore City, the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds is 31 percent, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
For Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, training the city’s workforce for future success in the world of work starts with the basics – acclimating the city’s high school students to career opportunities that exist in the private sector.
That’s why, last year, the mayor launched “Hire One Youth,” a new signature initiative of YouthWorks, the city’s long-time summer jobs program. Hire One Youth’s objective is to place highly-motivated and well-prepared high school juniors and seniors and recent high school graduates into six-week summer jobs in the private-sector.
Previously, private-sector employers in the city and region consistently supported YouthWorks with financial contributions, but placed a comparatively low number of youth workers in their own workplaces during the summer. Most YouthWorks student participants ended up working in government agencies.
Last year, 81 employers participated in the inaugural Hire One Youth campaign, hiring 285 young people for summer jobs in private-sector workplaces. This year, Hire One Youth is seeking to double the number of participating employers and to place 500 young people in six-week jobs in businesses and nonprofits.
Here’s how the program works. Local employers can commit to hiring at least one youth, aged 16-21, this summer by completing an online form or by 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 in late June and ending in August that pay $1,200 for the summer. Employers may elect to pay a higher salary scale. 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 that are the same as 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 Hire One Youth program. Throughout the summer, job coaches will visit work sites to provide support for employees and to ensure a productive summer experience.
Connecting the city’s large pool of young talent to the world of private-sector employment is critically important on several levels that relate directly to workforce development in the city and region.
Students gain invaluable exposure to the private-sector business environment. Also, they gain important perspectives about education options after high school.
Businesses get a first-hand look at talented, yet developing, young people that are close by. They identify young people with skills and help them identify other skills to acquire for success in a particular field of interest. Employers meet and work with talented young prospects to bring into their workforces, either right away or when they come back from college.
The current structural youth unemployment trend notwithstanding, it’s important for private-sector employers to cultivate youthful workers with skills – because they’re going to need them.
In Maryland, studies show employment growth and retiring baby-boomers will create significant workforce demands in the next decade, creating hundreds of thousands of job vacancies.
Of these, 36 percent will require either a bachelor’s or graduate degree, and almost 30 percent will be so-called “middle skills” jobs requiring less than four-year degrees, but more than a high school education.
Today’s employers must do all they can to cultivate, not waste, talent that is nearby and waiting in the wings to be productive.
In Baltimore, the Hire One Youth program is a way for businesses “to do well by doing good,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake said, “not only for giving a young person a chance to earn and learn, but also by making an investment in their organization, their industry and Baltimore’s economy.”
For this initiative, summer jobs aren’t about charity or getting Baltimore’s youth off of the streets. They’re about inspiring our 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.