Thursday, July 13, 2017

🎶 Summertime, and the city’s steamy…

But that’s not stopping thousands of 14-24 year olds from participating in the District’s 2017 Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program.

Summer jobs have been a hot topic on the national scene this year, as research shows that they are in sharp decline. According to a recent piece in the Atlantic by Derek Thompson, “In the summer of 1978, 60 percent of teens were working or looking for work. Last summer, just 35 percent were.” Thompson quickly debunks a knee-jerk explanation: “kids are lazier these days!” In fact, data shows the number of youth in the US who are disconnected from education, employment or training has remained remarkably flat—meaning through one or more of these activities, youth are keeping busy. More likely (and obvious to those familiar with youth development) is a confluence of factors including increasing competition for entry-level and lower-skill work, greater pressure for youth to utilize summer months to get ahead or keep pace in their studies, the heavy reliance on unpaid internships for early work experience, and a national decline in federally funded summer jobs.

Source: The Atlantic

While the first three factors pose very real challenges for DC youth, the latter is largely countered by the large annual investment ($20 million) made by the District government in summer jobs. With 13,000 available slots for summer employment and overwhelming support for the program, the mission of the MBSYEP must shift beyond the availability of summer employment. District youth face a uniquely challenging job market as prospective employees. According to Brookings, no major metropolitan area is better educated than the Washington area, but that educational attainment varies greatly in the region by race and ethnicity. As one of the major predictors of long-term employment success, this inequity in educational attainment puts extra pressure on workforce development programs to turn out participants who have the hard and soft skills the market demands. The six week scope of SYEP limits the program’s ability to fill this gap in isolation. Yet, in tandem with data-informed, need-based and seamless referrals to year-round educational and training opportunities, the District could make up substantial ground.

The Department of Employment Services (DOES) has worked to build these bridges to more intensive resources for youth, and to maximize their impact by providing financial literacy training, transportation subsidies, and opportunities to hone essential workplace skills in addition to SYEP’s core job placement function. The DC Auditor’s series of reports yielded DOES’s commitment to better shore the considerable administrative aspects of the MBSYEP, and to improve key strategies to ensure the six-week program is maximized to ensure positive work experiences and skill-building for participants. Here are some highlights of improvements slated for the current program year:
  • DOES aims to better serve youth with disabilities participating in the MBSYEP, and sought the input of parents, public school leaders, and the Department of Disability Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (DDS-RSA) to plan, develop programming, and recruit youth.
  • In an effort to develop high-quality MBSYEP host employers, DOES planned several host employer workshops (starting in February 2017) to both familiarize host sites with standard operating procedures and to support the development of high-quality curricula for the six-week program.
  • Having received feedback from host site partners, DOES agreed to share participant communications with partners in an effort to streamline support for the youth, and minimize conflicting or incomplete information from trusted adults.
  • In an effort to improve some of the more complicated administrative requirements of host sites, DOES developed a training manual on the required tools for effective program operation specific to the host portal and the time management systems (TMS).
  • DOES is exploring and testing strategies to link out-of-school youth from MBSYEP into WIOA-funded year round programs, including paying participants as they transition between programs to support the youths’ sustained engagement.
  • Acknowledging past challenges, DOES expected completion of all MOUs with other D.C. government agencies for structured summer programs and support services prior to the 2017 MBSYEP program start date of June 27, 2017.
  • DOES also developed a training for MBSYEP Timekeepers at each host site to address persistent challenges with timely submission of participant time sheets that result in late paychecks for youth.
As this summer’s participants near the halfway point of the program and gear up for the homestretch, we hope these improvements are felt by youth and host sites alike. With such a staggering need for quality early work experiences and uniquely ample resources to provide summer jobs, the District has every reason to push the boundaries of the MBSYEP’s efficiency and effectiveness.

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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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