By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING – A summer job might be a great way to put some money in teens’ pockets, but a recent study shows that part-time jobs offer them much more than a paycheck.
In addition to earnings, students participating in Summer Youth Employment Programs (SYEP) across the country have better grade point averages, showed more responsibility in social and sexual behaviors and had better attendance records than those who didn’t, according to the study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
SYEP is a federal program created in 1979 that provides jobs, including jobs for Michigan residents ages 16 to 24, especially low-income, at-risk teens, who tend to benefit the most, according to the study of SYEP programs in New York.
Lisa Anderson, the youth services coordinator for Networks Northwest Michigan WORKS!, said her organization primarily assists struggling, economically disadvantaged youth.
“That’s who we’re supposed to serve – the hardest to serve,” she said.
Michigan WORKS! Youth Services has centers across the state, geared at finding jobs for youth and teaching them skills to succeed like writing a resume and practicing interviews.
Anderson’s organization includes centers in Petoskey, Manistee, Traverse City, Cadillac and Kalkaska. She said it helps employ around 300 to 350 youth each year.
The program helps counteract youth unemployment rates, which have been slow to recover since the 2008 recession, according to the study.
“When the market is tight, youth with barriers do have a difficult time finding employment,” said Cheryl Wolfram, the Manistee area Michigan WORKS! youth advisor.
Wolfram said Manistee’s programs focus on education, post-high school training and career development, along with providing youth a way to earn a paycheck. She says they work mostly with nonprofits that need teen workers.
The National Bureau of Economic Research study says programs like Michigan WORKS! also help teens develop positive work habits, time management skills and self-confidence. For underprivileged youth, Anderson says these skills can have a major impact.
“These are kids who have limited resources, and sometimes, little encouragement from their parents,” she said. “Besides being poor, there’s usually a lot of other things going on in these youth homes – we have situations where there’s substance abuse and legal issues, and there can even be housing and transportation issues.
“They can be in a pretty chaotic situation, and having the work experience, having another caring adult in their corner to help guide them – it’s comforting to them.”
The study also cited research showing programs like SYEP lead to less violence and crime. Participating students were also better at test-taking: They took and passed more exams and had higher grades on average. According to the study, the more years that teens participated in an employment program, the more they benefited.
Wolfram said, “It levels the playing field so that students who have barriers in their life
are able to obtain jobs, learn employment skills and learn of career and
Anderson said the program tries to place teens in jobs in their career path or that will improve their resumes: “You know, ‘I want to be a veterinarian,’ so we will put them to work in an animal shelter or humane society or with an actual veterinarian, to see what it’s like.”
To be eligible for the program, employers must meet certain criteria, like offering workers compensation. Participating employers pay the youth’s salaries, but are reimbursed by Michigan WORKS! with federal and state funds.
“When they get to a full-time employer, they know more of what they’re doing and what’s expected, so they tend to have better work ethic in terms of showing up on time, giving plenty of notice if you’re going to call in sick, following the rules and getting along with authority and all that kind of stuff,” Anderson said. “A lot of those kids who haven’t worked, they’re a little bit in shock sometimes of what’s required in a workplace.”
Grow Benzie, a community farmstead in Benzonia, is one employer that works closely with the Manistee office.
“We’ve had students in the past come tell us, from what they’ve learned, they’ve applied it in other jobs,” said Director Josh Stoltz. “I can tell you that I’ve had kids approach me in the community and say that they’ve had a great time and they’re applying what they learned.
“It really worked out with Michigan WORKS!’ goals, and our goals,” Stoltz said.
Youth workers at Grow Benzie do everything from tend gardens to work cash registers at farmers markets, and help with a variety of tasks across the four-acre farm.
“In the long run, we’re able to teach them some life skills and job skills that they’ll be able to use in the future,” Stoltz said. He said the program has a major impact on the surrounding area as well.
“I think it’s important not only for the kids, but for the community,” Stoltz said. “It just gives support and it really shows there’s an opportunity for everybody.”
And for struggling youth, Anderson says these programs can make all the difference.
“It builds that self-confidence,” she said. “They do not have to be a victim of their environment.”
By BROOKE KANSIER