It will take the outreach of many different hands to get local teenagers into the workforce this summer. Where self-motivation or family encouragement fall short, agencies and employers across the region are standing up for youth.
Several initiatives are currently in the works, well ahead of the day at the end of June when schools set students free.
Since the late 1980s over 12,000 high school students have participated in New Britain’s Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program (SYELP). Since merging with Bristol’s Community Action Organization (BCO) in Jan. 2017, the Bristol HRA is now hoping to offer the program to students there as well.
The state would grant funds to Capitol Workforce Partners to contract with social service groups across Central Connecticut to provide the five-week program. Last year the grant was not awarded and programs at New Britain’s Human Resources Agency (HRA) and Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) did not happen. This spring these agencies are working with local leaders to make sure as many teens as possible can participate, whether or not state funding comes through.
“We are trying to pull together an opportunity for employers to invest in youth this summer,” OIC Executive Director Paulette Fox said.
The New Britain Chamber of Commerce joined hands with HRA and OIC to ask employers to sponsor the initiative at $2,000 per student. This will allow them to take part in a five-week work experience, earning minimum wage for 24 hours per week. To sponsor and/or host student(s) employers are urged to call the Chamber at 860-229-1665. Tomasso Builders has already offered a $10,000 endowment to start the drive.
Over a quarter-million dollars is needed to provide SYELP to the high number of interested students.
“It’s a lofty goal but it would basically be the same amount provided in the past,” Chamber President Tim Stewart said. “It’s about providing opportunities for our kids over the summer. It’s money well-invested in communities like ours.”
HRA and OIC pay the students’ wages, which total about $1,000 each for the summer.
“Many low-income families with limited resources rely on this program to assist their kids in buying their own school supplies and contributing to the household,” HRA Director of Youth Services Leticia Mangual said. “It goes a long way for families who are struggling.”
The schedule alternates hands-on career training with career competency development, like resume writing, interview skills and job preparedness.
“It’s not just about a paycheck; it’s about life skills and employability,” Mangual added. “We also try to place them in a field they would like to pursue in the future to give them the real-world experience.”
New Britain companies that host students include CW Resources, Avery’s Beverage’s, Creed Monarch, CVS, and Urban Urth Organic Farm. Stew Leonard’s in Newington and Marshall’s in Plainville have also taken in many participants for the last several years. Participating Bristol employers include the Imagine Nation Museum and Learning Center, Arna Machine Co., CVS and Royal Screw Machine Products.
“Keeping good partnerships with employers is crucial,” Mangual pointed out. “Many have been receptive in hiring youth and we provide case management assistance.”
About one-third of students are hired by worksites after the summer is over. Some begin full-time jobs and others work part-time as they finish school.
Qualified students must be eligible for free/reduced lunch or be receiving state assistance and have a school attendance rate of 90 percent or better. Organizers fear that even if the state budget includes program funding upon its tentative passage July 1, it may only provide for less than 100 students this year.
“There’s always a waiting list of about 400 kids,” Mangual said.
When the 2017 program was cancelled, it was a hard blow for all expecting to take part. Not only youth- but also the companies, which open up positions for teens.
“It was very disappointing to the employers last summer,” HRA Program Coordinator Katie O’Donnell remembered. “Especially because it was last-minute. A lot of them depend on this.”
The agency still kept its doors open, in case teens wanted to use the computer lab for a job search or have staff look over their resume.
There are still plenty of opportunities out there for youth to get summer jobs the old-fashioned way.
Frisbee’s Dairy Barn on the New Britain/Farmington line employs half-a-dozen teens seasonally.
“It’s a part-time summer job that most of the kids who work here enjoy,” Frisbee’s Manager Enio Culani said.
It may not lead to a career in ice cream, but it’s still a valuable experience as they move forward in the workforce.
“Communication is not just a skill important for this business, it’s a skill important throughout your life,” Culani added. “They certainly learn that here.”
Lake Compounce held a recruitment day for interested applicants at the end of March. The amusement park employs about 1,000 workers during its May-Dec. season – many of them local teens.
The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be outfitting state parks with staff for the summer season and has put out a call for applicants. Open positions for those 16 and older include lifeguards, beach directors, patrol officers and maintenance.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few facts:
-Over 5 million U.S. youth ages 16 to 19 were employed in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.
-Over 2 million were in the service industry, the majority in food preparation. Sales and office work accounted for 1.7 million jobs in the same population last year.
-Youth participation in the summer labor force has held fairly steady since July 2010, after trending downward for the prior two decades.
-The highest age bracket for unemployment is teens, at 15.6 percent in 2016.