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Hall: Work to employ Detroit youth

Dierk L. Hall

Exciting things are happening in Detroit, and even the national media seems to have caught on. We are seeing substantial investment and new business formation, and there is increasingly a revitalized physical environment and a sense that, working together, we can accomplish great things.

This new reality presents us with an outstanding opportunity to extend its benefits and vitality to our neighborhoods, as to our young people, who are anxious to participate in the world of work. Detroit’s youth want to work so they can earn money that can be used for school expenses and help with household needs. They want to work to understand what it takes to succeed in the business world and adult society. And they want to work to enhance their sense of self, creating a brighter future for themselves, their families and the community.

Excellent progress on expanding youth employment is being made, with many admirable programs being sponsored, in particular, by the nonprofit community in partnership and other agencies. Since 2009, City Connect Detroit, has directly raised more than $20 million and helped put close to 28,000 youth in paid summer employment and training experiences in Detroit. This year, we expect to put another 8,000 youth ages 14-24 in paid summer employment and training, though more than 25,000 young people are expected to apply for these positions.

We have so much more to do. According to recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we know that 58 percent of African-American youth, ages 16-24, nationally are either outside the labor force (not looking for work) or unemployed, which correlates with studies of Detroit youth and our own impressions from working over the last decade in our community.

Putting together Detroit’s high rates of poverty, low rates of educational attainment, and high rates of adult and youth unemployment, all Detroit youth are put at risk by a lack of access to employment and training opportunities in the city. We have made progress in introducing young adults to the world of work through programs that understand and respect these individuals, their families and their school environment and that provide “real” work experiences, with pay; and that embrace coordination between nonprofits, private enterprise, our schools and the city.

We are also proud to enroll more than 100 individuals per year in our year-round Young Adult Education and Employability Program, which we offer in partnership with Wayne Metro Community Action Agency and four community-based nonprofits.

We welcome greater partnerships with the private sector, to expand the available number of opportunities and types of experiences in our summer program and, also, so our participants can learn more about how companies operate in our modern economy.

In all cases, from our annual program evaluation, we know that about three-quarters of participants will improve their educational outlook, two-thirds will connect with a long-term mentor, and one in five will use the money they earn to directly support their family.

Please help us connect the dots of opportunity, motivation and guidance to build a stronger, confident community where young people are invested in their future, as wage-earners, as citizens, and as mentors in their own right and time.

Dierk L. Hall is the president and CEO of City Connect Detroit.