Check the headlines recently, and there is a lot to cheer on the employment front.
Unemployment is at multi-decade lows. Recent stories in the Boston Globe show the job market recovering for lower-skill workers. And today, a story in the Globe highlights the growth in teen jobs this summer, with 15-year-olds among those finding opportunities at levels we haven’t seen since the recession took hold in 2008. This is great news — in the short run, the economic boost and added spending money that the jobs provide make a real difference. In the long run, these jobs mean even more.
Summer jobs can be a gateway to future opportunities. That doesn’t mean today’s teen summer worker at a restaurant is setting up for a career in culinary arts, or that someone getting a job in a city park has to be destined for horticulture. They could… and that would be great. Our recent leisure and hospitality report showed there are opportunities (and challenges) in that industry.
But a job of any kind gives a young person an opportunity to experience a different world than they have in school or in their neighborhood. Work has its own unique routines and expectations. Understanding those routines and meeting those employer or customer expectations are habits many adults take for granted, but they have to be learned somewhere.
Summer programs often provide that opportunity, and despite the recent increase there are still thousands of youth for whom such opportunity is hard to find. That’s why the Foundation's My Summer in the City program continues to focus on supporting two groups.
The first is teenagers who are harder-to-employ for any of a number of reasons. They’re immigrants. They have issues with CORI. They are victims of trauma. Or abuse. Or neglect. Or maybe they just missed deadlines or were unfortunately shut out of programs like Boston’s great summer jobs program, which is so popular that applications close on March 30th each year.
We are fortunate to collaborate with and support a number of great organizations who are taking action and opening doors for more teens in need. Our colleagues at Silver Lining Mentoring are using a My Summer in the City grant to provide project-based employment and leadership skills to young people who have been in the foster care system. Meanwhile, a new partnership between Phillips Brooks House and Y2Y Harvard Square is creating paid opportunities for young people who have been homeless, coupling the paid work with skill-building, training, mentorship, and counseling to help create a permanent path out of homelessness. There are many other examples among our more than 30 grantees.
For the young people in these programs, the experience these first jobs provide is crucial. It gives them the skills and building support networks to help them overcome the unique challenges that make getting that first "real" job and keeping it more difficult.
And our job? It’s to work in support of the programs that support them.
The second focus of our MSITC grants is on young people who often fall through the cracks. They’re 12-to-14 year-old youth who have aged out or lost interest in many of the summer youth camp offerings around the city. They’re too young for more traditional job training programs, but they need and deserve options that teach them skills and keep them from simply wasting summer days hanging around the streets.
We are working to ensure the number of options for these young people is growing, too. The city’s Children Youth and Families (BCYF) program offers its great “SuperTeens” program to provide participants with weekly leadership development workshops, hands-on experience working in BCYF community centers, and field trips to Boston’s arts and enrichment institutions. Plus, they get rewarded - participants receive a stipend upon completion of the program.
Sociedad Latina in Roxbury does something similar - providing summer learning and service-learning opportunities in a similar environment. Coupled with other ventures like the Boston After School and Beyond’s “5th Quarter of Learning” initiative, Sociedad's program gives young people access to opportunities and preparation that wealthier suburban peers take for granted.
Three things — Opportunity, income, and experience.
Making these three things available to all teenagers drives the potential for greater equity and opportunity for all adults later in life. And we are proud to support them through My Summer in the City.