Summer Jobs 2.0: How Cities are Tackling the Shortage of Skilled Workers

In 22 cities across the country, JPMorgan Chase is connecting students with quality work experience.

This article was originally published by Politico.

For Sebastian Rodriguez, 18, growing up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston meant staying out of trouble. "There were bad things going on — drugs, kids trying to influence me to do the wrong thing," he recalls.

But as a young boy, Rodriguez loved playing video games and developed a growing curiosity about the technology behind them, imagining different gaming scenarios and thinking about how "cool" it would be if he developed a game of his own. After a teacher dedicated a weeklong class to coding, he was hooked.

By ninth grade, he had enrolled in a computer science class. Still, there were academic challenges and an absence of anyone in Rodriguez's life sharing his tech passion.

That is, until he discovered a Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) program for summer youth employment during his sophomore year at Dearborn Stem Academy.

PIC is a nonprofit working to connect Boston-area youth with education and employment opportunities that align with the needs of area employers. Boston is one of 22 cities across the U.S. — including Houston, TX and Louisville, KY— supported by a $17 million, multi-year investment from JPMorgan Chase & Co. This commitment is part of the firm's more than $325 million global investment in skills development to address a growing economic crisis—more and more young people are graduating from high school without clear pathways to good jobs.

The mission is to help underserved high school students access quality work experience during the summer with the hopes of putting more students on a path to better economic mobility, while also helping employers fill key positions needed to sustain and grow their industries. Last summer, with the help of PIC, Rodriguez got his first job in the information technology department at Boston Public Schools headquarters. "I actually started my path to becoming a coder," he shares.

And for Rodriguez, that experience proved to be life-changing.

 

This newfound confidence translated into an opportunity to compete for a tech apprenticeship with BlueCross BlueShield this summer. With support from a PIC adviser, Rodriguez ultimately nabbed the job.

The Disappearing Summer Job
Over the past few decades, success stories like Rodriguez's have become increasingly uncommon. As teen labor force participation has fallen off dramatically, experts cite a complex mix of factors including employer reluctance to hire, increased low-skilled labor competition, a rise in unpaid internships and shifting cultural norms. And for minority and low-income students like Rodriguez, the odds are even further stacked against them, as studies have shown young people coming from families of higher socioeconomic levels are more likely to take-part in summer jobs. Meanwhile, a 2017 survey of 19 U.S. cities discovered that demand for summer employment still remains higher than the number of available job opportunities.

Nationwide, cities are confronting this conundrum through public-private partnerships like PIC, to provide jobs and internships in key industries — all with a focus on shrinking the skills gap and creating a more diverse workforce.

The PIC partners with the city and Boston Public Schools to match students with more than 200 private employers participating in the Mayor's Summer Jobs Program. "We have to engage the young people of Boston in our growing economy," stresses Neil Sullivan, executive director of Boston PIC.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh says the city's youth employment has grown from about 8,400 to more than 10,700 last summer. And the significance of private sector engagement in making this happen can't be understated. "It's important that we take a collaborative approach and partner with a mix of sectors.

The Next Generation Workforce
Brookings Institution credits the passage of the 2009 stimulus package for jumpstarting these initiatives. "It was the first federal funds dedicated to help local areas and states run summer jobs programs," says Martha Ross, a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

But maintaining that momentum means having multiple funding streams to sustain the program, she adds, explaining that cities are turning to the public-private partnership model to help lighten the budgetary load.

 

It's a model that not only changes the lives of students, but also brings value to private sector partners in the form of future workforce training. "When aligned with growing industries, these programs can also strengthen talent development pipelines more broadly," says Linda Rodriguez, executive director, Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase.

And at a time when employers across the globe report increasing difficulty in finding talent, the need for such programs could not be more profound.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the US economy will demand as many as 100,000 new information technology workers per year over the next decade, despite only 60,000 currently entering the workforce each year. Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers says that three and a half million new manufacturing jobs will need to be filled by 2025, with as many as two million of those jobs expected to go unfilled.

"These partnerships allow the city to place youth in an array of industries, especially emerging STEM industries, which reduces barriers to entry into the workforce, creates greater and more robust career pathways, and builds highly diverse pipelines into industries." Says Mayor Walsh.

The Metamorphosis of a Scholar
With its "earn and learn" approach, the Hire Houston Youth program is another initiative proving to be a game-changer for students like Isabel Losoya with support from JPMorgan Chase. Two years ago, the North Houston Early College High School graduate spent the summer working at a jewelry shop making $7.25 an hour. "School was always my No. 1 priority, but I didn't really know what kind of job I wanted in the future," says Losoya.

That all changed when she was introduced to the city's summer youth employment program and received a paid summer internship with the mayor's Office of Education — her first official "office job."

Hire Houston Youth is a nonprofit that offers subsidized youth internship and job opportunities at public and private employers throughout Houston.

 

Understanding the need for youth to build their "social capital and networks in their own backyards," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is prioritizing education and workforce development, while investing in technologies to improve program access. "When I became Mayor in 2016, we were only offering 450 positions with the City of Houston," says Turner. "This year we offered 7,500 job opportunities within both the public and private sectors across the city of Houston, and are developing programs to link Houston's youth to educational opportunities."

The program also provides financial literacy, public transportation fares, professional etiquette guidance and job readiness activities.

Such comprehensive support is critical, notes Ross. Why? "Because these young people might not otherwise get that chance." she explains.

In June, Losoya, returned as a second-year intern, researching education policy, entering data and attending mayoral events. "It helps me feel like I am working with a purpose," she says.

Now weeks into her latest stint, Losoya enthusiastically gives a rundown of the program's impact on her life: "With the confidence I gained, I decided to run for class president in my school — and won!"

That initiative is now taking Losoya to college. She starts at Texas State University in the fall with a full scholarship.

"I'm very excited to see what the future holds," she exclaims.

The Summer Job Ripple Effect
According to the findings of a separate Brookings Institution report, summer youth employment programs can also have a ripple effect in the communities they serve. For example, the study showed that engagement in one Boston summer youth employment program led to a significant dip in arraignments amongst participating students for violent and property crimes, at 35 percent and 57 percent respectively, in the 17 months following program participation.

In Louisville, Kentucky, with help from JPMorgan Chase, the SummerWorks program led by Mayor Greg Fischer is also helping build a pipeline to the city's future workforce. The program is an initiative of KentuckianaWorks – a workforce development board working to engage employers, job seekers and educators in the Louisville region to build a stronger community through work.

 

Mayor Fischer says programs like these provide "critical building blocks for young people" and "are especially important for those youth who otherwise might not have the opportunity." And there is plenty of evidence to suggest he's right. According to KentuckianaWorks executive director Michael Gritton, SummerWorks high school students are 12 percent more likely to be employed a year after the program and 21 percent more likely to be at a higher education institution. "We are trying to work with kids to get them ready for success in employment and life,' asserts Gritton.

Kenneth Albyati, 20, started working part time at GE Appliances in Louisville, KY through SummerWorks in the summer of 2016. It marked a shift in his life, having worked at a fast food chain for almost two years. "My mom came home one day and was talking about a summer job that could bring more opportunity. That's all I really needed to hear," he says.

That summer job helped Albyati stay on track and out of trouble. "I really feel like it did because it gives you something to do throughout the day," he says.

The Butler Traditional High School graduate leveraged that into full-time employment, balancing a nine-credit course load each semester at Jefferson Community and Technical College. He paid for college out-of-pocket before breaking this summer to study for his HVAC license.

 

With two years at the company, the aspiring mechanical engineer's workday now includes the assembly line, where he builds washer transmissions as part of a three-man rotation. "Honestly, I didn't imagine myself being here," he admits.

Yet, he is. And is still learning.

"Communication is probably the main thing that I've learned while working here," says Albyati, who regularly engages with peers and team leadership, even occasionally offering input when a machine breaks down.

Ultimately, Albyati praises the SummerWorks program and working at the company for getting his foot in the door and moving closer to his professional goals. Because without this opportunity, he doesn't know what life would be like now. "Only God knows," he says.