Mayor's Youth Employment and Education
Summer youth employment programs face uncertain prospects this year. The economy is shedding jobs and governments are cutting programs.
Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) will see its city funding for summer employment cut in half this year, to $500,000. PYN also anticipates cuts in foundation dollars and employer contributions for its summer employment program. In San Francisco, reductions in the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program (MYEEP) could cost hundreds of youth jobs this summer.
On the flip side, the proposed federal economic recovery package contains $1.2 billion for youth programs, including summer employment programs. That could actually increase the number of youth served and address longtime waiting lists, says Mala Thakur, executive director of National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC).
Organizations with solid management structures, strong community support and diverse funding streams are in the best shape heading into this summer.
One hallmark of a successful program is gradual growth, rather than a sudden surge. Take New York City: Its summer youth employment program operates a successful online enrollment and hiring system. “Our overarching strategy is incremental growth,” says Jeanne Mullgrav, the city’s commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development. The high-tech system started as a pilot for 3,000 participants and expanded to 42,000 online enrollees in four years.
In contrast, Washington, D.C.’s Summer Youth Employment Program tried to do too much, too fast. Last year, the program almost doubled its enrollment from 2007, while beginning an online rolling admissions process that featured an electronic payment system. The city couldn’t keep up with demand or manage the technology. The 2008 summer program was a public disaster, and many youths spent their days sitting in auditoriums. Support is shrinking; the city’s Chamber of Commerce recently announced that it was quitting the program.
Success hinges on a long-term vision, coupled with the people to support it. The Philadelphia Youth Council keeps PYN focused on its primary tasks, while the council itself develops partnerships, strategies and infrastructure to support local goals, including youth employment. PYN provides staff support to the youth council. It’s important to remain focused on end goals and to tie projects and funding to goals, says Stacy Holland, co-president and chief operating officer of PYN.
In San Francisco, MYEEP attributes its success to strong local support. “We started with a model the community and funders believe in,” says MYEEP Director Alvin Woo. Also important are follow-through and marketing. “We’re able to show tangible outcomes, so we’ve become the go-to program when the city wants to expand services,” Woo says. Another plus of tooting one’s own horn is recruiting – potential seasonal employees and partners want to work in a proven system.
Programs that have stood the test of time know the importance of staying lean. They train staff members to perform multiple jobs. Smart providers also build partnerships to leverage resources and to share knowledge and infrastructure.
Sound infrastructure sets the stage for future opportunities. For example, when San Francisco lost its summer employment funding in 2000, it needed an experienced partner to take the reins in place of the city agency that had run it. MYEEP, a nonprofit collaboration of community-based organizations, stepped up. Most of the components for a summer program were in place, so it made sense for MYEEP to help out and scale up.
Similarly, PYN, which operates in partnership with dozens of Philadelphia-based organizations, leveraged its resources to launch a summer internship program, running it for the city and schools. The arrangement maximized resources and trimmed costs.
Technology can also help programs stay lean. New York City’s $1.3 million investment in its online enrollment system reduced seasonal administrative staff needs, cut paper costs and allowed the city to funnel savings toward youth development.
Following are some of the providers that are well-positioned for this year.