The University of Michigan will pilot a summer employment program to pair economically disadvantaged youth with faculty and staff to help them gain work experience, mentorship and life skills training.
Spearheaded by Poverty Solutions in partnership with the Edward Ginsberg Center, Youth Policy Lab, University Human Resources and several community partners, U-M’s Summer Youth Employment Program will offer low-income Washtenaw County youth ages 16-24 part-time, temporary paid summer employment across campus.
Organizers are seeking U-M faculty and staff to apply to provide employment opportunities to youth in their units and departments. Those who offer employment will also serve as mentors. Possible positions include clerical support, building and grounds management, research assistance, programming support, food service and custodial work.
“We’re looking for jobs and supervisors across campus, and we know that both faculty or staff can add tremendous value to the life and experience of a young person,” Ginsberg Center Director Mary Jo Callan said.
Faculty and staff interested in either employing youth through the program or offering support and services must fill out an employer interest form by March 31.
U-M’s pilot will play a pivotal role in expanding an existing summer youth employment program that launched in Washtenaw County last year.
“With Poverty Solutions, we’re trying to partner with community stakeholders and policymakers, and we’re trying to bring the resources of the University of Michigan to bear on issues related to poverty,” Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer said.
The goal for the initial pilot is to offer up to 60 jobs on campus this summer. The program’s first priority will be to find positions for economically disadvantaged youth living in ZIP codes 48197 and 48198 — two Ypsilanti-area codes that have challenges around income and access to jobs, Shaefer said.
“We see it as both the opportunity to provide jobs and also to test what works and what doesn’t work with programs like this, so we’re going to be trying to build a very rigorous evaluation structure for it,” said Shaefer, associate professor of social work and of public policy, and director of Poverty Solutions. “By submitting potential job placements, faculty and staff are a critical part of making this program a success,” he said.
In the pilot, youth participants will work about 20 hours per week for nine weeks beginning in June. They will be paid $9 an hour, and participate in training and enrichment activities every Friday on topics such as applying to college and managing money.
Along with getting mentoring from their direct staff and faculty supervisors, participants will also be matched with a U-M student who will serve as their “success coach.”
Shaefer said research has indicated that summer employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth can yield positive effects on income and academic performance, as well as impact their engagement with the criminal justice system.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a mentor and have a meaningful impact on the life of a young person,” Shaefer said.
Callan said in addition to providing low-income youth with financial support for their families, summer employment opportunities also give them opportunities to broaden their networks of support.
“So many of our (U-M) students — not all, but many of them — have really robust networks that create current and future opportunities for them,” Callan said. “Youth who come from more disadvantaged households, including those where college has been out of reach, have fewer networks to connect them with resources and opportunities.”
Jeremy French, manager of Occupational Health Services at Michigan Medicine, said his unit has already expressed its interest to participate in the pilot this summer. He said his department has a few positions they feel can expose local young people to careers that they otherwise might not see, such as clerical and medical assistant work.
“I’m in the position I am today because someone gave me a chance,” French said. “In fact, multiple people gave me the opportunity to succeed and they help me every step along the way. I truly feel that I would be doing a disservice to the next generation if I don’t do everything I could to help them succeed.”