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Youth Get Help With Job Experience

July 15, 2013

Danielle Trubow


J As persistently slow and discouraging employment conditions continue to
paint a bleak future for the nation's youths, local summer employment programs
for young adults could not have come at a better time.

A July 5 national jobs report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
shows that national unemployment rates for youths in June, 2013, were nearly
double and triple that of overall unemployment rates. And in Ohio last year,
teens and young adults were nearly one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times as
likely to struggle finding work compared to the total state labor force.

But in Lucas County, federal stimulus dollars have helped employ 565 low-income
young adults this summer. The Lucas County Summer Youth Employment Program has
been challenged with obstacles in its five-year existence -- including reduced
funds in 2011 -- but organizers say this year's program may be its strongest
yet.

"We think we're one of the best in the state," said Pete Gerken, a Lucas County
commissioner and former autoworker. "This is a positive program worth the
community's investment."

The eight-week summer program began June 17 and is being funded with $1.7
million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Family funds. Coordinated by
the Lucas County Workforce Development Agency, those involved are building job
skills at 132 nonprofits, private business, and public administration work
sites.

As early as 7:30 and 9 a.m., the youths employed at the Believe Center get to
work.

The growing, green tomatoes will be ready for harvest in nearly two weeks, and a
four-person team is needed to lift the garden trellises higher. They checked the
nine-week old raised garden beds for dead, yellow-stained leaves, pulled pesty
weeds, watered plentiful plants, and nailed wooden boards.

For first-time community gardener Ari Baer, 18, whose responsibilities at the
community center have included gardening and cutting grass on vacant lots, the
work has helped build his resume and prepare for trade school in Nashville this
fall.

Julien Barhill said the summer employment has allowed him to forgo a truck job.
Instead of being on the road and away from his family for 300 days a year, the
23-year-old West Toledo resident can take care of his 3-year-old son and baby
daughter.

"This job is helping me give back to youth and support my children. It has been
a blessing for me, and I am grateful to be in this program," he said.

For decades, summer employment of youths has declined nationwide.

Anthony Carnevale, the director and research professor of the Georgetown
University Center on Education and the Workforce, echoed these concerns.

"We've had a substantial falloff in youth employment for decades. The reason for
this is that the general skills for entry-level positions have grown rapidly,"
he said. "Youth unemployment is cyclical ... in a recession, it's more
difficult."

Tourism jobs help

Although Mr. Carnevale said a local labor industry is important -- markets with
summer tourism, for example, can hire more young adults -- as the economy
recovers, labor market conditions for young people should improve.

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services has dedicated millions from
stimulus dollars in 2009 and public assistance dollars in 2010, 2012, and 2013
to subsidize summer youth-employment programs in 73 Ohio counties.

Counties are not required to offer such programs, but child poverty has long
been a concern in Lucas County. For the last five years, the Workforce
Development Agency and county commissioners have coordinated more than 2,800
summer-youth jobs.

And as long as a youth's family earns within 130 percent of the poverty line,
Mr. Gerken said the program will not turn away eligible workers.

40-hour week

Mr. Baer said without this opportunity, he might have been on the couch at home
all summer, playing computer games. Instead, the three-time program participant
is working a maximum 40 hours per week at $8 an hour to help his mom support his
younger brother and sister.

According to Benjamin Johnson, spokesman at the Ohio Department of Jobs and
Family Services, the short-term benefits of summer programs are threefold.

First, they provide work to a population that struggles to get meaningful job
experience. Second, because young adults have a qualified need, they immediately
can spend or save earned income as they would like.

And third, costs covered with federal dollars make it possible for employers to
add summer staff, without replacing full-time workers.

Earlier this month, Commissioner Carol Contrada called the program a
"win-win-win" for the youth, community, and employers.

Supervisors at three randomly selected work sites, interviewed two weeks after
the program began June 17, said their experiences have been nothing but
positive.

But in 2009, the county program made its debut to mixed reception. Some of the
workers had good experiences. Others dropped out, and some employers complained
that those assigned to their site could not perform basic tasks, were unwilling
to work, or would show up late or not at all.

Five-time participating employer Tracey Jacob, who has supervised a total of 25
students at sites that include an automotive supplier and an envelope firm, said
the program is effectively managed. Job coaches will randomly check in with
employers and workers every other week and will switch those to other work sites
"on the spot" if the relationship isn't a good match.

'Real lessons of life'

Not every experience has been perfect, Ms. Jacob added, but if supervisors are
willing to supervise, the program can be valuable to all.

"Sometimes, kids need to mature quickly and be educated on a remedial level.
They're learning the real lessons of life in a short period of time. At the same
time, there's more effort that comes with that, but the value has got to be
there," she said.

The program teaches young adults the rules of the workplace and how to be
responsible, as well as how to apply for jobs online, build resumes, and
interview.

And because the agency and county evaluate the program each year, Mr. Gerken
said it has constantly evolved.

In addition to conducting post-employment interviews with employers to ensure
that they are benefiting from the experience and properly supervising workers,
he said student post-employment evaluations have taught the agency that
transportation issues the first year prevented many from arriving to work on
time or getting there at all.

Mr. Gerken said work force staff now assign the young adults to work sites
according to their interests and access to transportation. They also guide the
workers with ways of properly handling their money.

The county program has been an important learning opportunity for low-income
workers and last year, Toledo Mayor Michael Bell asked local businesses to "step
up" and help provide jobs.

Community-based organizations responded by participating in several job fairs
and contributing donations. City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said some
organizations, particularly ProMedica, answered Mayor Bell's challenge by
enhancing their own summer-employment programs.

Ms. Sorgenfrei said ProMedica, which this year has formed a partnership with
United Way, has provided students not only with summer jobs but also with
exposure to a spectrum of opportunities in the health-care industry.

Jack Nagy, 18, who graduated from high school with plans to study nursing at the
University of Toledo this fall, said his part-time work experience stocking
rooms with supplies, checking equipment, and speaking with patients has
confirmed his career ambitions.

Students are working both in clinical and nonclinical components of health care,
said Luke Barnard, ProMedica's manager of work force planning.

"We want to grow workers for the future and help them get through the door."

Contact Danielle Trubow at: dtrubow@theblade.com or 419-724-6050 or on Twitter
@danielletrubow.

___

(c)2013 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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Source: Copyright Blade (Toledo, OH) 2013

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