The Daily Record: The ripple effect of helping our youths

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on on February 18, 2016.

By Donald C. Fry

In the summer of 2012, a young man named George Boswell showed up for a summer internship at Hazen and Sawyer, an environmental engineering firm with an office in downtown Baltimore, and he turned a corner in his life.

The engineers and other staff at the firm were so impressed with the work ethic, professionalism, and drive to learn displayed by Boswell that they have brought him back every summer since. They plan to do so again this summer and hope to one day hire Boswell, said Moalie Jose, an engineer and project manager with the firm. As for Boswell, 19 and a sophomore at Morgan State University, he once dreamed of playing football in the NFL. He now says he has his sights set on a career in electrical engineering.

This is just one of many success stories that have played out over the summer in recent years at engineering firms, banks, hotels and other professional workplaces in Baltimore. It’s all thanks to the Hire One Youth Program, which matches youths ages 16 to 21 for a six-week internship. The program, which I serve on as chairman, is the private-sector component of YouthWorks, the Baltimore City summer jobs program.

As the story about Boswell underscores, the program opens doors – and even a whole new career path — to young people who might not have otherwise been pointed to a different road in life.

As Jose puts it, “The Hire One youth program is great and we’ve had nothing but great experiences with it.”

It’s that time of the year when more of these success stories start to take shape as youths have begun registering for the program; already it’s looking like there is very high interest. As a result, even more internships at Baltimore area companies than ever will be needed.

Some numbers drive home the point: On the first day that online registrations for YouthWorks and Hire One youth opened in early January, about 1,000 youths signed up. The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, which coordinates the summer programs, said this week youth registrations had crossed 9,700.

With about three weeks to go before the registration window closes, it’s looking like the number of youths registering could exceed those of the summer of 2015. That was a banner year with more than 8,000 youths offered summer job placements. Of those, 744 youths landed summer employment in professional office environments at 180 businesses under the Hire One Youth program. The number of companies that participated in 2015 was double the number of companies that participated in 2014.

The numbers point to a couple of conclusions. First, despite some popular impressions, Baltimore youths earnestly want a summer job and want to gain valuable experience in the workplace. And second, youth who have been in the program must be sharing with family and friends upbeat stories about their experiences. If they weren’t, you’d expect some drop-off in registrations.

The high interest so far this year points to the need for businesses and companies that have offered positions in the past to do so again – and consider increasing the number of positions they make available. There is also a need for more companies to get involved.

Jose at Hazen and Sawyer doesn’t see any reason for companies in the Baltimore area not to participate in the Hire One Youth program. She says she’s noticed from her experience these benefits:

  • The summer interns keep the workforce young and bring fresh ideas and perspective.
  • The program exposes youths to an industry they may not have been aware could be a good fit for a career, such as engineering,  medicine or law, and trigger an interest to pursue it.
  • The program is a good way to attract young talent that a company may not have otherwise been introduced to and could lead downstream to a strong hire.
  • Companies that participate in the program become tapped into the community.

The bottom line is companies and businesses that bring on these summer youths are investing in tomorrow’s workforce and affording a young person the opportunity to get a competitive edge in the job market and the workplace.  Both will be tough in the global market of tomorrow. Overall, the combined efforts of companies that participate in Hire One Youth are working to increase Greater Baltimore region’s competitiveness.

Or as Jose eloquently puts it, by helping youths build a future and a career path “we create a ripple effect in our world, helping to build our community, our country, one youth at a time. The more organizations who participate, the greater the effect.”

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to The Daily Record.

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