Workplace Culture

Blog: Youth Employment: Closed for Summer?

By Ladan Nikravan

Mar. 27, 2015

It’s that time of the year. Companies are looking for summer interns who are going to be available during their three-month break. Interns are looking to work for a company and gain as much experience as they can during their short employment term. Or, at least, it used to be that time of year.

According to a recent JPMorgan Chase & Co. report, only 46 percent of young people who applied for summer employment programs were enrolled in one last year, and the forecast doesn’t look good, especially for low-income youth and people of color. In the 14 major U.S. cities surveyed, officials project that tens of thousands of economically disadvantaged youths looking for jobs will not be able to find them during the upcoming summer months.

The report is part of an ongoing initiative by JPMorgan Chase to build awareness of the growing disparity between employer needs and worker skills, while also working with local groups nationwide to help create more than 50,000 summer jobs.


Chauncy Lennon, JPMorgan Chase
Chauncy Lennon, JPMorgan Chase

One of the big problems is that while young people face diminished opportunities to gain summer work experience, employers are increasingly demanding a more skilled workforce. The reports says these heightened expectations mean it is essential for young people to obtain early work experience and develop skills that allow them to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

I interviewed Chauncy Lennon, JPMorgan Chase’s head of workforce initiatives to discuss the numbers and what we can do about them. He provided some great case studies of companies that have implemented programs to develop youth’s skills. Below are edited excerpts of our interview. I’d love to hear what your company is doing to develop tomorrow’s future workforce.

Why is summer employment down for youth?

Lennon: A decrease in public and private funding and resources, coupled with a fluctuating economy, has put a strain on many summer youth employment programs across the country. As a result, there has been almost a 40 percent decline in summer youth employment over the past 12 years.

In large part, this is due to severe reductions in state and federal financial support, which is why public/private connections are so vital to these important development programs. The private sector can do its part by stepping in and helping with two critical resources: funding and jobs for young people. For example, JPMorgan Chase committed $5 million over two years to enhance skill-based and career-specific job opportunities for young adults. This commitment, combined with other local support, created almost 50,000 summer jobs for teens and learning opportunities for more than 54,000 young people in 14 cities.

Funding and hiring, though essential, are not the only ways that the private sector can contribute to the success of a summer youth employment program. It is essential for private sector employers to become deeply engaged with their local educating and training partners and local officials to support the creation of high-quality programs that, in turn, create skilled, high-quality, long-term employees. 

More specifically, your report found that tens of thousands of economically disadvantaged youths looking for jobs will not be able to find them during the coming summer months. Why does the employment shortage disproportionally impact low-income youth and young people of color?

Lennon: While high unemployment is a challenge facing many young people across the nation, the data from our report found that low-income youth and young people of color were disproportionately effected. Relative to their more affluent peers, low-income youth have fewer opportunities to be exposed to career paths, build work experiences and establish a solid network.

In the summer of 2013, low-income teens (family income less than $20,000) were 20 percentage points less likely to be employed than high-income teens (family income $60,000 or more). The employment rate among white teens was 39 percent, nearly 27 percent among Hispanic teens and 19 percent among black teens. White male teens from high-income families were five times more likely to be employed than their black male peers from families with incomes under $20,000.

Still, the impacts of the recession are taking a toll on young people, regardless of race and income, who are looking for opportunities in the job market.

As young people — especially low-income youth and young people of color — face diminished opportunities to gain summer work experience, employers are increasingly demanding a more skilled workforce. The report says these heightened expectations mean it is essential for young people to obtain early work experience and develop skills that allow them to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The problem is, as you have highlighted, they aren’t getting these jobs. So, what’s the solution to better develop youth for jobs for when they are older?

Lennon: Young people are facing a catch-22. There are fewer summer jobs available. Yet, these jobs are critical to getting the right experience and training to find jobs that a gateway to a career. Whether it’s welding or patient care, employers today are looking for workers with specific skills to meet the needs of their businesses. If young people don’t get summer jobs that teach them an in-demand skill, they won’t be able to find good-paying, quality jobs down the road.

JPMorgan Chase believes that helping students gain the skills they will need later in life is one of the best ways to accelerate and expand economic opportunity. Research from our new Summer Youth Employment report demonstrates that early work contributes to long-term success. Early work experience has been linked to higher graduation rates, better future employment prospects and significant increases in earnings later in life. During the summer months, teenagers learn the basic building blocks they need to get their next job. They also benefit by getting on-the-job experience, skills development, opportunities to discover interests and talents and exposure to professional culture and references.

Yet, skills development does not necessarily have to be a paid position. Volunteering contributes to success in the same way that a paid internship or summer job would. The results are the same: Working in a professional environment accelerates professional development among teens. The report shows that working is one of the most powerful tools for increasing opportunity and acts as an entry point on the continuum to long-term success.

Do you have any examples of cities or companies that have implemented programs to develop youth’s skills?

Lennon: Each city we looked at in the report implemented their summer youth programs differently. There were some really innovative examples of providing opportunities for students to enter the workforce.

For example, youth in Louisville who receive summer jobs through KentuckianaWorks are provided weekly job coaching. “Champion” employers assist by offering Work Based Learning Plans that document youth work performance and offer suggestions for improvement. Champions are also encouraged to participate in “Quality Supervision,” in which youth are exposed to a wider range of experiences within an organization, such as board meetings, job shadowing and mentorship to help them develop additional short and long-term career and education goals.

Of the programs studied, it was apparent that the thriving programs featured a strong partnership between local employers and local workforce and economic development plans. Employers can help mold the program to meet the needs of their current workforce demands, creating valuable work experiences for participants at the same time. Similarly, a strong partnership with local leadership helps create the necessary infrastructure and mechanisms to replicate these successful programs.

Milwaukee has focused on charting career paths for teens. Through its Earn and Learn Summer Jobs Program, the City of Milwaukee and a local high school are offering a Certified Nurse Assistant program where teens can receive training for the state exam through Milwaukee Technical College and work experience at Community Health Centers. After completing their clinical experience, young adults take the exam and begin a placement process with private sector employers.

Most of the time, programs are dealing with limited resources, yet it is still essential to understand which skills-based approaches can be the most effective and which models can be easily scaled and replicated. Sharing best practices on innovative skills-based approaches could help advance both the understanding an adoption of skills-based summer youth programs.

Each program had positive aspects and we hope that the report will help shine a light on some of the exceptional programs available today, making them models for cities looking to expand opportunity for youth employment, as it is critical for the future success of the nation.

As Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett noted, “As adults, we have a moral obligation to our young people to do all we can to prepare them for the future. That’s why this report from JPMorgan Chase will help Milwaukee, along with cities across the country, increase the number of summer jobs available and make sure those jobs are high quality opportunities that provide the training our young people need to compete.”

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