For at-risk teens looking for summer employment, two Washtenaw County programs offer assistance

Photo Credit-Crispusattucks.org
Two programs in Washtenaw County, Michigan seek to
help at-risk youth find summer employment opportunities.
With the nation’s high schools in next couple of months engaging in their annual three month summer break, teens face a tougher time finding a summer job with the national unemployment rate holding at 8.8%.

In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the unemployment rate for teenagers at 25.7 percent, compared to 8.4 percent for job seekers ages 20 and over. 

The rate was 10 points higher than five years ago in January 2006, when the jobless statistics figures among teenagers ages 16 through 19 was estimated to be at 15.1 percent.

Add to these discouraging figures, an even higher employment rate for at-risk African-American teens.  Between the ages of 16 and 19, African-American teens are more likely to be unemployed than any other group in the nation, where the jobless rate is higher than any other demographic since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began publishing results in 1972, holding at 38.4 percent.

“One of the pressures for teen employment is the overall unemployment rate — individuals are accepting and seeking positions that they might not normally do in more robust economic times,” said Greg Rivara of the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Teens across the country face less help finding work this summer because federal stimulus money that funded youth job programs in the last two years is no longer available.  One such program, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) for at-risk teens seeking assistance employment opportunities, was subject to cuts in the federal government 2011 fiscal budget.  

Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) “B-Side”- Business side for Youth– in Washtenaw County, is a program ran by director Jack Bidlack. “B-Side” seeks to curb teen unemployment rates, by encouraging youth to pursue entrepreneurial training opportunities. Bidlack program which started in fall 2007, has since helped almost 500 teens -ages 13-20- start develop fundamentals to build their own business opportunities.

Business Side of Youth idea came about when Bidlack was thinking about putting together a youth jobs program a few years ago. Soon, he realized that there were not many opportunities for meaningful work available to young people. Rather than try to help teens “get jobs,” Bidlack decided to offer teens a chance to control their own density, as a business owner.

“Your question is, what problem do you want to solve and how will you go about it?,” Bidlack stated to students during a recent “B-Side” class in Ann Arbor.com.

The course cost of $20.00, on Saturday’s at EMU from Noon-4 PM for eight weeks, covers the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship textbook and workbook, which the students get to keep. A reduced sliding scale course fee is available for low-income for as little as $5, Bidlack said.

Washtenaw County’s Services for Youth Ages 14-21, program offer services to set teens on the right path with obtaining a summer or year around job opportunity. Managed though The Michigan Works! Career Development Centers, the focus address issues holding at-risk teens back from finding employment.

The biggest pitfall for teens is not taking a job search seriously, says Charles Purdy, senior editor with Monster.com. Many times, teens fail to dress up, fail to prepare for an interview and often have not taken the time write a resume.

“For the employer, they don’t see a summer hire any different from a regular hire,” Purdy says. “They expect that same level of professionalism.”

Set in two phases, Washtenaw County’s program for at-risk teens, with the assistance of employment counselors develops, an individualized plan identifying employability skills, job goals, community resources to find employment with job leads and one-on-one career coaching. 

Next, after landing employment, the program continues to offer support and guidance for challenges that may arise on the job and assisting teens with proper work/life balance issues.

Certain income requirements must be met to participate in the program. For more information about Washtenaw County’s Services for Youth program, teens can contact The Michigan Works! Career Development Center at 734-484-7247 from 8AM-5PM, Monday-Friday.
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