Summer Youth Employment Program Is A Win-win

October2009 If you want to know how intractable the unemployment problem is in Detroit, talk to any group of 18 – 24-year-olds and you’ll be amazed at how few have ever had a summer job.

That’s why McDonald’s owner and operator, Jamar Thrower, decided that the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.

“We are always open to getting involved in anything positive to help the community,” said the owner of Jamjomar, Inc. “This was an unbelievable chance for us to train young people at no cost to us, then have them ready to hire when the summer was over.”

Thrower is one of dozens of for-profit employers who participated in SYEP this summer. The Detroit program, which serves an average of 2,500 youth each year, received an injection of $11.2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act this summer. The federal money helped increase the scope of the program to serve about 7,000 youth ages 14 – 24.

SYEP Participation is Good for Business

With the drastic increase in the number of youth served, City Connect Detroit, acting on behalf of the Detroit Youth Employment Consortium, decided to enlist the help of the business community in addition to the traditional non-profit supporters of the summer program. It was not an easy sell.

“In a troubled economic climate, many businesses were focused on downsizing, not making room for new employees,” said City Connect Detroit CEO Geneva J.Williams. “But when we made it clear that we were providing the youth and paying their salaries, many businesses jumped at the chance to give young people a taste of the real work environment.”

Thrower employed 13 youth in his two Detroit stores. “In such a depressed time, it’s important to expose kids to earning a paycheck and to teach them accountability,” said Thrower, who trained his SYEP youth in all aspects of running his business. “It was such a good experience for me as the employer, I would have no trouble recommending that other stores in our consortium participate next year.”

Cultivating Future Employees

C. has a bad temper-one that landed her in front of a judge earlier this year after the 20-year-old stabbed someone in a fight. The judge gave the first-time offender a choice: Go on probation and get a job, or go to jail.

“I picked probation,” she said. “I’m so glad I was given a chance.”

C. ended up in SYEP doing conservation work with the Greening of Detroit. “This is my first time having a job,” she said while composting at Elizabeth Gordon Sachs Park near downtown Detroit. “It feels good to have a paycheck.”
The biggest lesson she’s learned is how to stay to herself. “You get quiet when you do work outside,” she said. “At first it was uncomfortable being quiet and thinking. But it helps me stay out of trouble.”

It’s a Question of Values

Exposing youth to environmental issues, plus giving them chance to learn the value of hard work is exactly why Johnson Controls, a member of the Detroit Youth Employment Consortium,got involved with SYEP.

In 2006, the Milwaukee-based company began its Conservation Leadership Corps (CLC) to teach urban youth environmental stewardship and leadership. The program has since expanded to two other cities where the company has operations: Baltimore and Detroit.

“We had 2,200 applicants for 110 positions in Detroit this summer,” said Jennifer Mattes, director of global public affairs. “We continue to search for additional funding sources in all three cities – the need is so great.”

In partnership with the national Student Conservation Association and the Greening of Detroit, the CLC was able to give Detroit youth a taste of the green job industry, including educating city residents about energy efficiency; weatherizing and energy auditing 75 homes in Detroit; designing and building an outdoor classroom and indoor environmental lab at Barbara Jordan Elementary School; conducting an extensive tree inventory; and reclaiming two green picnic shelters on Belle Isle using alternative building materials and practices.

Why did Johnson Controls get involved with summer youth programs?

“We wanted to invest in the communities where we do business,” said Mattes. “It’s about challenging the next generation to be environmental stewards and providing them the opportunity to gain leadership skills. Some of them may even become our employees. Plus, we hope they will stay in Detroit because they see a future there.” (For a list of other funders of the Detroit Conservation Leadership Corps, see below.*)

The program also helped Johnson Controls develop a relationship with state and local leaders. “The mayor and the governor are supportive of these summer programs as well,” said Mattes. “We’ve earned recognition as a company that’s engaging youth in a unique and meaningful employment experience that also provides a valuable community service.”
Mattes said that SYEP is a win-win for the business community. “Through the program, we can give youth a perspective of what kinds of skills and education they will need to be ready for the green jobs of the future,” she said. “At same time, they’re doing something to beautify their city. We want to make it a better place for everyone.”
* Johnson Controls is the founding sponsor of the Conservation Leadership Corps. Additional support was provided by: Chase; the City of Detroit Community Development Block Grant and Neighborhood Opportunity Fund; The City of Detroit Workforce Development Department; City Connect Detroit; the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth; Michigan Works! Association; Masco Corporation Foundation; SAP Americas; and the Walmart Foundation.