Seven years ago, Jason Perkins-Cohen saw parents brave a March snowstorm to check out a YouthWorks information session for summer jobs programs.
It was his first week as director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and he looked out onto a packed room for a program that was almost four months out. That’s when he learned just how important YouthWorks was to Baltimore parents, and how passionate they were about finding opportunities for their children.
“‘What is my son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandchild going to do this summer?'” Perkins-Cohen recalled of attendees’ approach while recalling the event to Technical.ly. “‘It is really important to me [that] my young person has an opportunity, my young person is building towards their future.’ I continue to be struck by the passion parents and caregivers have about making sure [YouthWorks] exists and is strong.”
Financial firm JPMorgan Chase donated $150,000 last week to help support the 6,700 young Baltimoreans that participate in the city’s summer job program (and give parents peace of mind about what their children are doing when school’s out). The donation is a part of a $20 million, five-year philanthropic commitment to support summer youth employment programs in cities throughout the country, including Technical.ly markets Philadelphia, DC, Delaware and Pittsburgh. It’s part of an effort to curb the pandemic-related decline of youth summer employment, which a recent Georgetown University report said is at its lowest levels since the Great Depression.
Last year, the program included STEM jobs thanks to the coordination of Pass IT On and equity-focused workforce coalition Baltimore Tracks. Programs like YouthWorks can help build the tech talent pipeline and introduce more diverse candidates to Baltimore’s tech community, in which White and Asian American workers are overrepresented compared to the predominantly Black city’s actual demographics.
Perkins-Cohen envisions YouthWorks as four summers that stack the building blocks for youth to build soft skills. The ability to show up to work on time, interact with coworkers and take direction from supervisors are crucial to skilled workforce development.
“When you’re talking about the higher-level jobs where there’s a skills gap, you now have a young workforce that’s ready to grab a hold of that opportunity,” he said. “They’ve already got those basic building blocks.”
Another year of YouthWorks starts on July 5th, and companies across Baltimore can support it by becoming a YouthWorks job site. Perkins-Cohen says the program doesn’t just benefit the young people who can learn from job placements, but the companies hiring them, too.
“We don’t view this, and we certainly don’t pitch it, as any corporation or business doing it for charity,” he said. “Do it because you’re going to get a great worker and you’re going to provide opportunity. This may be your future workforce.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-