Twenty-Five Percent of U.S. Americans believe they’ll lose their job in the next twelve months. The economic downturn has begun for most of us, but one group, in particular, is falling into a tailspin. Approximately 75,000 NYC youth and their families rely on the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) as their introduction to the world of work. On top of helping youth build essential skills for the future, SYEP wages provide critical lessons in money management and financial responsibility. Unfortunately, New York City’s decision to suspend the SYEP eliminates the only helping hand that can keep young people from falling between the cracks of an economy crumbling under their feet.
In times of social distancing, it should be clear that young people still need a helping hand. By taking away their only shot at employment, New York is ensuring that thousands of youth will emerge from this pandemic worse than when they went into it. But social distancing doesn’t have to lead to disconnection; it’s time for the city’s leadership to step up and get informed about the decisions that can make or break young people’s chances of building social capital and the future economic opportunities that come with it.
New York City cares – the community resilience in this pandemic shows us that. At its finest, The Big Apple is committed to ensuring the health, welfare and safety of every young resident. They need that resilience now more than ever, and there is no better way to achieve this, especially now, than through social capital. Social capital does more than open doors; it might even save lives. At Penn State, researchers have found that counties with higher social capital follow social distancing guidelines more closely. Strengthening the social capital within communities may proactively provide a greater sense of mutual obligation towards social distancing than any press conference ever can.
With so much time at home, the time is ripe to connect young people to the wealth of social capital assets within their community. Right now, workforce systems are scrambling for ideas on how to connect to youth and overlooking the challenge of how to connect youth to others. Workforce development should not rely on teaching young people how to put in applications online, but to build connections inline, assess their social capital connections, and turn those assets into opportunities to earn and learn.
As one of the founders of the NYC Summer Youth Employment Consortium and with thirty-five years of youth workforce development experience under my belt, I know young people are brimming with connections to gainfully employed family members, former teachers, and others who can help them on their journey. Family and friends rank first in connecting young people to employment, workforce development programs come second.
In cities nationwide, what youth know isn’t as powerful an indicator of long-term success as who they know. A social capital approach can revolutionize summer job employment at a time when they need it most. Through such a framework, summer programs can invest in helping young people identity and connect to their own internal networks to access information and guidance on how to build the essential skills necessary for future workforce success.
Mayor De Blasio, you said it yourself: we need deep grassroots outreach. With a social capital framework, existing summer job programs have the chance to bring that call to life. Youth programs can engage youth in a program providing twenty hours of work a week, broken up into five facets:
One hour of paperwork and administrative tasks, teaching young people valuable lessons about the logistical side of work.
Two hours per day of online lessons or stoop-based seminars where young people on a shared block learn about emerging industries.
Five hours per week of reaching out to social capital assets. Through guided coursework, youth can learn to build relationships within their family and community effectively in a variety of ways, including contacting five working adults and interviewing them about strategies they use to get to work on time – even during a pandemic.
Three hours of collaboration between youth and a program coordinator, where the youth prepares the findings from their activities and shares them with other NYC youth in the program.
Four hours of weekly meetings to hold young people accountable in their development of social capital and essential working skills.
These programs can serve the community further by hiring Opportunity Advocates– adult local online coaches – who guide students through key learning activities and help them decode new information and apply it to their lives. By paying Opportunity Advocates for this part-time work, you’re helping mitigate the unemployment crisis while uplifting your most at-risk communities. They won’t be the only ones who benefit. With a social capital program done from home, youth reap tangible rewards:
They gain knowledge and access to labor market information, including career opportunities, part-time work experiences, and other ways to develop their professional selves locally.
Meaningful virtual service-learning programs are made available, teaching youth the importance of education and work.
They learn about the breadth of career pathways before them, and start working towards their interests.
Youth can see firsthand what behaviors and skills are needed to succeed in this unprecedented and competitive environment.
Staying home doesn’t mean staying still. The world is spinning, life is moving forward, and as they come of age in uncharted waters, our youth must adapt to survive. Through a social capital approach, young people develop a greater sense of attachment and belonging to the world of work by connecting them to an adult who can help them dive on in. In these distant times, they need it more than ever – and summer youth employment programs can be the first to give them a hand.
-Edward DeJesus is the President of DeJesus Solutions and the founder of the Social Capital Builders. To learn more, please visit www.ededucates.com.