Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SYEP: Why DC Needs a Plan to Succeed

DCAYA provided testimony last week to the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development at a special DOES Roundtable about the performance of the District's OneCity Summer Youth Employment Program. In addition to sending our resident policy gurus to testify and live tweet the hearing, we also convened a panel of summer workforce providers that could speak to some of the issues they saw firsthand with SYEP this year.

The general feel of the hearing was one of encouragement. For the first time in years, SYEP appeared to come in under budget and had far fewer participants and taxpayers calling elected officials to complain. However, as advocates and concerned residents of the District we need to be leery of celebrating too early, setting low expectations and labeling a program whose outcomes are not well defined as a success just because it came in under budget.

Make no mistake, the Department of Employment Services has certainly taken steps in the right direction since 2008 and 2009, but the District's youth, their parents, and even the community writ large should expect excellence out of its youth programs, not mediocrity. Due in large part to SYEP's history as a program that places a high burden on taxpayers, leaves youth and parents angered and disgruntled while providing few tangible results and benefits, our expectations as a city are currently abysmally low. But this isn't the way it has to be. The District can do right by its youth and provide quality; outcomes based programming that does not have to shock the world by coming in under budget.

DCAYA's testimony outlines various areas of improvement that will continue to raise the bar for SYEP's performance in 2012,but to actually ensure that DOES is making headway toward positive outcomes for our youth the District needs to answer one simple question. What is the ultimate goal of SYEP?

Is the point of SYEP to simply expose young people to the workplace? Is it skill building? Is SYEP supposed to be job exploration that allows youth to “try before you buy” in different employment sectors or is the government simply running a program that connects youth with a paycheck? It may be all of these things, or none, or even a combination of these things and other goals we did not mention, but any way you swing it the District needs to outline definitive objectives, develop targets and outcomes that illustrate whether those objectives are being met and actively message all of these to our elected officials, the advocacy community and most importantly, the participating youth. Only then can SYEP be accurately judged as a success or failure.

In the coming weeks, DCAYA will be partnering with DOES to run feedback sessions for providers that participated in the 2011 program so that program staff at DOES and in the administration can better understand what about SYEP is working well and what isn't. We salute DOES’ efforts to illicit honest feedback from the provider community and will do everything in our power to help the agency obtain this feedback; however, having hosted sessions like these in years past, it will come as no surprise when responses about clarity of mission and vision start rolling in. It is our hope that thru this process, providers concerns are taken seriously and critical improvements like the formulation of a strategic plan are undertaken in an efficient manner.

SYEP, like most youth serving programs is a program that is absolutely teeming with potential. By providing young people with a strong foundation for lifelong success in the labor market, we help our youth, but also the long term economic standing of the District. The District needs to take advantage of this potential and use the momentum DOES has created over the past year to further improve SYEP and thus the economic vitality of the city.

Links to all the testimony DCAYA provides at Council hearings is available on our website.

If you or staff members from your organization are interested in participating in one of the follow up groups with DOES please contact DCAYA’s Policy Analyst for Youth Workforce Development Anne Abbott (anne

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