Many of the young people accepted into the program have barriers to employment; they are from low-income households or have disabilities. They live at a time when it’s difficult to get a job as a teenager. Youth employment has dropped more than 20 percent in the past 15 years.
Teens who do get a job, especially economically disadvantaged males, are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to attend college, and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.
The Summer Youth Employment Program reinforces job and personal skills with classroom and workplace components. For the first two weeks, students receive work-readiness training and learn about appropriate workplace behavior, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. Then, each student is matched with a participating employer, where they work for 20 hours a week for 8 weeks. The program provides each student a stipend over the summer, as well as their own mentor and weekly meetings with the rest of the group to reflect on their experience.
For his first two years in the program, Gil worked at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, where he learned about the environment, Iowa history, and the deer population, even getting a heart-pounding ride with a game warden. Most importantly, he experienced what government employment was like.
“I learned a lot about jobs: How jobs are created through the government, and how people perceive the government through the jobs they work.”
Last summer, Gil took his skills to Broadlawns Medical Center in the IT department, where he learned how to build a computer. But the biggest lesson from his summer there was about health care itself: “I learned how important hospitals are to a working civilization.”
Gil credits the employees of Broadlawns and the Iowa DNR with being exceptionally good teachers and mentors.
“The people the program connected me with knew that we weren’t going to be at 100 percent the whole time,” he says. “They knew they needed to teach us, and that’s one thing I applaud the program for.”
Over the course of the program, Gil has seen a change in himself and his peers. “They are calmer because they have work experience and because they know what the world wants for them.”
Gil says that, without the Summer Youth Employment Program, he never would have learned how to be a leader.
Now he dreams of being a boss.
After graduating from East High School this May, Gil plans to start his own cattle-import business. Eventually, he hopes to diversify into retail, real estate, and other holdings so that economic swings won’t affect his business. In 30 years, Gil sees himself as an entrepreneur and executive who can spend his whole day on the phone—building relationships with co-workers and clients.
If that happens—and there’s no reason to doubt it will, given Gil’s charm and work ethic—he may just have the Summer Youth Employment Program to thank for his start.
“You learn so much through the program,” he says. “It teaches us to do more, instead of just hanging out all day. You learn to create instead of to consume.”