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Baltimore’s summer youth jobs program is getting ready for remote work

Making the decision to continue YouthWorks in the pandemic, Baltimore city government is working with local education and workforce orgs to to bring digital skills and programming.

Attendees of this weekend's Code in the Schools event. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing limits on public programs and difficult budget decisions for cities. It’s the kind of environment that has led other cities, like, New York, to take steps to cancel summer youth employment programs.

Baltimore is facing similar fiscal challenges, but despite these struggles and social distancing that has closed many workplaces, the city’s YouthWorks program will return in 2020 starting on July 13, and it’s going virtual, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said on Wednesday.

“Now more than in years past it is critical we offer the program in some form this summer,” Young said at a City Hall news conference. “Our communities have come to see the YouthWorks experience as a right of passage for our young people who have earned it. We are responding despite the challenges the coronavirus has presented.”

The program, which is open to youth and young adults ages 14 to 21, will run for five weeks beginning on July 13. Working four hours a day, youth will be able to make $1,100.

YouthWorks has 100 employers committed that will offer virtual employment and programming, said Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED).

In line with a time where many people are working from home, teleworking is also part of the programming. It will have a focus on getting youth comfortable working in a teleworking role, as well as the kinds of jobs that are continuing to see demand.

“This is an at-scale deployment of a future of work training for 4,000 youth,” said Andrew Coy, executive director of the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF).

Along with employing young people as it has in the past, the Federal Hill-based nonprofit is serving in a role that Coy said is akin to the team of specialists that were called in during NASA’s Apollo 13 mission to come up with a fix on the ground that would get astronauts home: “We are a support team to them,” he said of MOED.

It's more than a cool program. It's financial stability and safety for families across Baltimore.

With fewer employers able to participate than in the past due to social distancing, DHF is part of a rapid response team of workforce and education specialists outside government working to bring programming and platforms that youth in the program can access for skill building and education — a second strategy in addition to placing youth with employers. The youth in this programming will be part of 15-person groups, and will be guided by a career coach.

DHF is among a group that also includes Code in the Schools (which has experience running the CodeWorks summer program), International Youth Foundation, Career Team, Baltimore City Public Schools and Heartsmiles that’s creating curriculum and getting the tools ready to deliver it. Baltimore Corps is also engaging partner organizations in preparation for the summer program, as well as supporting the recruitment of job coaches.

Keeping YouthWorks in place means preserving a program that offers work experience and, for many Baltimore families who live below the poverty line, a critical paycheck — especially now, given the economic downturn.

“It’s more than a cool program,” said Tia Price, who is director of programs at Wide Angle Youth Media and working to build curriculum with the rapid response team. “It’s financial stability and safety for families across Baltimore.”

As youth think about pathways to their future jobs, the focus on teleworking also shows how opportunity and digital access are linked. In a city where 40% of households lack a wired internet connection and one in three don’t have a computer, some youth who enter the program will not have ready access to technology at home. So getting YouthWorks up and running will include efforts to source devices for youth who are employed.

Alongside a laptop and internet connection, it’ll also offer a chance to gain the necessary skills to use them: The team has been putting together a curriculum to help the youth get comfortable with remote work tools. They could either continue with that skills-building work for the duration of the five-week program, or as part of work with an employer.

I think we are putting youth on a career trajectory that will be more stable. They will be more confident to say, I can apply for a teleworking job.

“We are serving 4,000 youth who are from diverse backgrounds,” said Nyah Vanterpool, teleworking tools subject matter expert at DHF. “We have to be prepared to differentiate the experience and instruction to be able to be meet all of these myriad students.”

It has meant sourcing content that starts from the introductory level, as well as building in problem solving that requires a creative approach and selecting a platform for the curriculum, called eduFlow, that’s visually appealing. They’re also taking steps to add elements that help with networking and interpersonal connections, and Price is coordinating a youth advisory board to incorporate the voice of youth into the implementation.

“I think we are putting youth on a career trajectory that will be more stable,” Coy said. “They will be more confident to say, ‘I can apply for a teleworking job.'”

Officials said Wednesday they could commit to funding at least 4,000 positions for 14- to 21-year-olds. That would be about half the number of youth who had applications processed prior to the pandemic disruption — and half the number of jobs offered in years past. The number could grow with additional foundation or business support; Commitments of at least $100,000 each have already been made by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

“The more investment we can secure, the more young people we can put to work. It’s as clear as that,” said MOED Director Jason Perkins-Cohen.

Among the employers signed on is University of Maryland Medical Center, which will employ 100 people to work on its Project S.A.F.E (Students Achieving Future Excellence). They will address social determinants of health and get involved in career exploration, professional development training and a service project.

“Our goal is to help young people see the impact of investing in their own community,” said Samuel Burris, UMMC’s community engagement manager.

Companies: Code in the Schools / City of Baltimore / Digital Harbor Foundation

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