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Summer Youth Jobs Program Revamped

Dorothy Rowley | 3/9/2011, 11:57 p.m.
The District's Summer Youth Employment Program allows thousands of District teenagers and young adults to gain skills by working in D.C. government offices and service centers. Youth also have an opportunity to work in the private and federal sectors. / Photo courtesy of the National Park Service  

The District's Summer Youth Employment Program allows thousands of District teenagers and young adults to gain skills by working in D.C. government offices and service centers. Youth also have an opportunity to work in the private and federal sectors. / Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

It will be several weeks until classes end for the summer, but the District's One City Summer Youth Employment program is already abuzz with activity.

The application process opened Feb. 25 to a Midnight Madness kickoff at the Department of Employment Services building in Northeast, and within hours, thousands of applicants ages 14 to 21 had filed by in hopes of landing a summer gig that will pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

By early last week, Department of Employment Services (DOES) officials -- who will administer the program - had capped participation to 12,000 applicants.

Nearly half are coming from Wards 7 and 8 where in recent months, the unemployment rates have been as high as 17 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

The program begins June 27 and runs through Aug. 5, and according to a statement from Mayor Vincent Gray's office, the employer list includes city, federal, private sector and nonprofit organizations, with more than 70 percent of the jobs offered outside of D.C. government.

But in an effort to avoid the debacles that embarrassed former Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration, Gray has committed to transparency in the delivery of this year's initiative and that will bear several noticeable changes pertaining to image, feel and focus.

"One chief component is making sure the program is transparent because in the last couple years that hasn't always been the case," said Gerren Price, associate director for the Office of Youth Programs.

Price said applicants who lined up early on to apply will naturally get first consideration. In the event, they don't comply with requirements - such as verification of ages and social security numbers - officials will move down the list to get the jobs filled.
Gerren Price - Courtesy Photo

"If applicants don't [measure up] by March 19, they risk losing out," Price said, adding that they will be taken to task on their interviewing skills, as well as the ability to show up to work on time.

"We want them to experience what it's really like to be part of the workforce, [therefore] more than ever, we're putting a lot of responsibility on the participants. We want to make sure they're dressing appropriately, being respectful to supervisors, following through on assignments -- and not just showing up."

Adult participants - who will hire the youth - will have their work cut out for them, too.

As far as employers, "We have fewer spaces than in the past, so we have to be a little more selective," Price said, alluding to past management problems such as those that surrounded the 2008 endeavor in which as many as 22,000 youth were hired.

Employers will have until March 25 to apply for participation and, in the case of program supervisors, criminal background checks will be conducted.

At-large Council member Michael Brown chaired the summer jobs program for two years. He said the commitment of transparency is as important as management.

"For the last couple of years, the management hasn't really been up to par," Brown said.

"I'm hoping that this year, with the new DOES director, that in addition to transparency we have a good well-managed program."

Brown said on the other hand that the city had "some real budget issues" that involved the program's downsizing, deeming it necessary to scale back on both employers and participants.

In addition, "My concern has been that a lot of these young folks that we're employing, go home and their parents aren't working," Brown said.
"So we can't steer all the money into the summer jobs program without also doing adult job training."

Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell, who is running for the seat on the State Board of Education left vacant by the late William Lockridge, added that he would like to have seen a reading component in the program.
Pannell said some students will most likely have spare time on their jobs that they could put to good use by reading.

"One of the things I've been saying as part of my platform is that I would like to see the summer employment program involve some type of reading component because from June until September a lot of our students will probably be receiving a lot of text messages," Pannell said.

He said it would have been a good idea to require participants to create a list of books they could get at the public library.

"My belief is that a lot of these students will get jobs where there is not a lot of work to be done and they'll end up sitting there with nothing to do when they should be reading a book," Pannell said