Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer, summer, summertime…

... time to find work, rise and grind. 

That’s right, it’s that time of year again! While many of us will take advantage of the next six weeks to escape the sweltering DC heat for some R&R, about 15,000 District youth will be staying put to participate in the 2016 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). With SYEP participants ranging in age from 14-24 reporting to their first day this week, we thought it was a great time to reflect back on the major changes made to the program last year and to highlight plans for program year 2016.

As the first year of SYEP to serve youth through age 24, 2015 marked big changes to the program. While we saw the size and budget of the program expand to provide work opportunities to the District’s unemployed youth, we were also encouraged to see new commitments made to the quality and accessibility of the program.  The participation of 25 youth with disabilities was supported by a partnership between DC’s Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA), SchoolTalk, and District schools. This pilot program (now called SYEP JumpStart) provided the individualized supports and services needed to ensure that these youth could access meaningful work experience through SYEP. In addition, the Office of Youth Programs (OYP) expanded the availability of transportation supports to SYEP participants in 2015 so that they could budget $110 over six weeks to travel to and from their jobs. At Council’s urging, we also saw an increased emphasis on DOES’s ability to demonstrate the impact of the program, especially for those youth 22-24 who stand to gain the most from participation in the program. Understanding that summer work programs like SYEP can provide a critical entry point into a broader array of workforce development, education, or employment opportunities, it’s especially important to leverage SYEP for older District youth who struggle to gain a foothold in the labor market.

Full Report Available Here
In addition to a DOES-produced report on the 2015 SYEP, the DC Auditor also released their report on the operations and outcomes of SYEP in comparison to eight other cities. In tandem, these reports provided valuable insight into the improvements already underway within OYP to strengthen the program, and also highlighted areas of the program which stand to benefit from greater attention. The Auditor’s report suggested that the District could draw more on non-local sources, such as federal or private funding to decrease the $20 million annual price tag of SYEP paid by DC residents. The report also strongly recommends the development of more diversified program options to meet the varied needs of District youth who participate in the program. For example, those youth who indicate their disconnection from education, their housing instability, or their non-resident status could be flooded with supports and transitioned into longer-term programming from their participation in SYEP. The report also highlighted that under statutory requirements in place since 2010, SYEP must receive an annual, independent evaluation. We’re hopeful that OYP will continue to welcome the results of this annual report in their efforts to seek new, innovative, and data-driven improvements to SYEP.

Building off of these report recommendations, Deputy Mayor for Greater Opportunity, Courtney Snowden, recently shared some of the plans underway for this summer’s program on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. In addition to continuing SYEP’s commitment to serve as a bridge for 22-24 year olds into employment (or educational opportunities), the Deputy Mayor also highlighted the program’s partnerships with the White House as a Summer Impact Hub, with LinkedIn to create more corporate and private sector work placements, and with DCPS to connect the students of DC’s 9 Career Academies to summer work placements that align with their courses of study. These new or intensifying partnerships demonstrate significant progress for the program in addressing long-standing concerns and leveraging SYEP as conduit for youth to pursue substantive, long term supports and opportunities.

As we take these plans and improvements into consideration, it’s important to highlight the significant growth of this program within a few years. While the program enrollment fluctuates annually (between 13,000 and 15,000 youth), the program’s budget has nearly doubled over the last 5 years from $11.5 million in 2012 to $20.2 million in 2016. The incremental increases to the District’s investment in SYEP over time have certainly yielded impactful improvements in the accessibility, quality, and operation of the program. Yet taken in context with the full array of workforce development programming offered in the District, additional investments of local funding should be used to bolster year-round programming moving forward. It will be important to work within the current budget mark to maximize SYEP’s quality and impact, and to further leverage its popularity and size to direct youth to the longer-term supports and services they need. While SYEP quality is paramount, we fully recognize that a six-week program will not be able to directly facilitate workforce outcomes like full-time employment, certification or high-tech training that other programs of an extended duration strive to achieve. More than ever, SYEP stands to serve as the District’s jumping off point for more intensive youth workforce development. While the crown jewel of DC’s youth workforce development system, SYEP is ultimately one of many gems the city must value.

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Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. She credits her first summer job as a server on the Jersey Shore for teaching her how to multitask and how to remove tomato sauce stains from white shirts. Please contact her at with any questions or feedback on your 2016 SYEP experience.

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