Op-ed | The whole city wins when we invest in summer jobs

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SYEP workers posed with their NYPD supervisors at One Police Plaza on Aug. 12, 2021.
Photo by Dean Moses

This week, New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) will conclude its 59th year of providing paid summer job opportunities to young people across the five boroughs. It has been a groundbreaking year for SYEP, thanks to the forward vision of Mayor Eric Adams, who baselined $236 million in funding to expand and enhance the program, reaching a record 100,000 participants.

This historic investment recognizes the critical, multi-faceted importance of providing enriching summer job experiences. Summer jobs have a proven a proven track record of keeping youth engaged, supporting public safety during the summer, and creating invaluable, paid career exposure to build life skills for a successful future.

DYCD and its 60 contracted community-based providers worked tirelessly to launch this year’s program and provide a record number of job opportunities. This summer, SYEP partnered with over 18,000 worksites that were more diverse than ever before: healthcare, technology, government, media and entertainment, education, hospitality, real estate, and more.

Participants had the opportunity to engage with employers like Microsoft, SL Green, Cushman and Wakefield, Google, Accenture, CBRE, and Maimonides Medical Center. Additionally, SYEP saw its largest investment from over 80 city agencies, with more than 5,000 young people working across agencies such as Small Business Services, Department of Transportation, Office of Chief Medical Examiner, and the New York City Fire Department.

Learning, however, did not stop at the worksites. We turned New York City into a living, breathing classroom. Participants were invited to a series of both in-person and virtual enrichment events, including a healthy cooking demonstration by Mayor Adams and a tour of Con Edison’s education center to learn about various jobs within the company. This city knows that learning happens outside of four walls and invited young people to step out of their comfort zones to grow this summer.

We also know that there’s more than just academic learning, but life skills that others took for granted.

Financial Literacy training was part of our curriculum, included courses on banking, wages, taxes, credit, budgeting, and investing, to develop a healthy relationship with money. In total, participants spent over two million minutes learning financial literacy content. Thanks to an almost decade-long partnership with Citi Foundation, participants were able to receive a plethora of information on how to build for a fruitful financial future and understand the benefits of banking and saving.

More than 63% of SYEP participants enrolled in direct deposit this summer — another record-breaking achievement. Also, for the first time in the program’s history, participants of the program received a MetroCard, giving them another way to travel to work and save more of their paycheck.

Equity was at the forefront of our outreach. Providers stepped up recruitment of young people from historically underserved communities. Over 13,300 participants are NYCHA residents; nearly 4,700 young people are part of the SYEP Emerging Leaders Program, which provides specialized experiences for youth who are justice-involved, experiencing homelessness, in foster care, and who have disabilities and attend DOE District 75 schools. In addition to hosting 800 SYEP participants, the New York City Police Department formed a new partnership with D75 schools, connecting participants with sight and hearing challenges to job opportunities at NYPD offices. 300 SYEP participants are helping to prevent violence by working for organizations that are part of the city’s Crisis Management System.

Behind each of these statistics is a face, a story, and a future for our best and brightest New Yorkers. SYEP participants receive life-changing work experience, mentorship, skill development, and financial literacy tools. It would not be possible without the hard work of the city, community-based organizations, DYCD staff and employer partners. The Summer Youth Employment Program is so much more than a summer job—it is a vital tool in keeping youth safe, and empowering them to be the next generation of leaders.

Keith Howard is the Commissioner for the city Department of Youth and Community Development.

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