Nothing solves the summertime, out-of-school, youth idleness problem better than jobs for young people.
That’s the smart thinking behind Mayor Sly James’ initiative to get 250 area businesses to hire 2,500 teenagers and young adults this summer. In 2014, James put together the Summer Youth Employment Commission, naming a diverse group of civic leaders, clergy and company representatives to the panel.
The commission and James started the Hire KC Youth campaign, and last summer helped place about 1,500 young people in jobs. This year the commission is asking companies to hire at least one teen or young adult for a 20- to 40-hour-a-week internship. Those businesses that don’t have jobs to offer are asked to provide $3,000 to sponsor a young person for an eight-week summer internship at a Kansas City nonprofit.
The U.S. unemployment rate is 4.9 percent. Last summer the unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 was 12.2 percent. The commission wants to bring that number down in Kansas City.
The summer jobs program is good for the area economy because it provides young people with spending money. Employment also gives youths a productive way to use their time.
The jobs also connect young people with working professionals. They can see the jobs they want to have when they finish their education and may realize they have to take more advanced courses in high school and college to be career ready. That can include chemistry, biology, college algebra, statistics, computer coding, trigonometry and calculus.
“Right now it’s kind of an abstract concept to them,” Clyde McQueen, president of the Full Employment Council, said in a meeting the commission had with the editorial board. “You can’t wait until you graduate. You have to start sooner.”
Summer jobs also might lead young people to stay in Kansas City instead of leaving when they finish their educations, thinking that other cities offer better opportunities.
A chief concern among employers is job readiness. McQueen called it “behavioral competency on the job.”
And that’s a valid concern. But the commission is addressing it with training that’s being provided for youths who are accepted into the summer jobs program. One session in early April will teach young people how to dress for success. Inappropriate attire is a sure way to wash out of a job.
Kansas City has been troubled in recent years with young people hanging out on the Plaza, creating disturbances. The mayor has summer programs for youths, including ClubKC and various athletic, arts and educational programs, getting young people off the street.
Adding jobs to the summer mix can only help prevent problems.
A job fair will run from 9 a.m. to noon on April 16 at the Kauffman Foundation to connect teens and young adults with potential employers. Preregistration is required at hirekcyouthfair.eventbrite.com. McQueen said young people who get jobs in the program will be required to complete a 10-point program to ensure they are prepared to go to work.