With summer only a few months away, the question, “What will I do?” may be on the minds of many youth, especially as states begin to ‘re-open’ and employers look to hire. In July 2021, 22.5 million youth, aged 16-24 years old were employed. The increase in employment levels during the summer is typical, as youth are not in school and often working. For youth hoping to obtain a job, there are several options such as an internships, summer jobs, or Summer Youth Employment Programs (SYEP). 

Summer Youth Employment Programs are an initiative by many states and cities to provide youth with work experience typically between June and August. According to a report by the Metropolitan Policy Program SYEP were originally supposed to keep youth safe and off the streets, as well as fostering opportunities for work readiness skills. As SYEPs have grown with positive effects of reducing youth criminal activity and incarceration among participations, there has been a drive to expand the goal of SYEP to assist youth in finding a meaningful career or the pursuit of post-secondary education. Throughout the 6-8 week work experience, emphasis is placed on soft skill development which addresses employers’ expectations of needing skilled and trained applicants, but also ensures youth feel confident and successful in the workplace. 

SYEPs vary in eligibility, structure, and implementation from program to program. This variation is partly due to funding. In some states, such as Hamilton County, in Ohio, Prevent, Retention, Contingency and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is used to fund the Jobs and Family Services Youth Employment. The Hamilton County Youth Employment Program provides summer jobs and year-round job readiness training for Hamilton County residents ages 14-21.

The Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, can also be a source of funding for states with the priority of serving In School Youth and Out of School, between the ages of 14-24 years old. In some instances, the funding stream directly affects eligibility requirements, and can be contingent on income, household size, and single parent/guardian status. In this respect, SYEP is especially important for low-come youth who may not have the same opportunities or access to resources that their peers in higher-income levels do. Additionally, research has shown that early work exposure, (which SYEP provides) can have immediate and long-term impacts, resulting in higher hourly wages, increased annual earnings, and fewer unemployment periods.

A defining element of the success of SYEP is the connection between employers, nonprofits and school districts. Employers play a vital role in this partnership as they provide the site placements or jobs for youth. Through the Department of Youth and Community Development in New York City, the SYEP provided 13,157 work sites to almost 75,000 youth in the summer of 2019. Undeniably, without the partnership or coordination of employers, this would not be possible. Table 1 indicates three tiers or levels to which employers can be engaged with SYEPs.

Table 1. Common Characteristics of Different Types of Employer Partnerships with SYEPs 


Source: Employer Engagement in Summer Youth Employment Programs | Urban Institute

Examining the information provided in the table, there is an understanding that employers under tier one act as host partners. Supervisors focus on developing skill sets and education specifically related to the industry in which the youth is placed. Tier 2 partners take on the role of mentor. In this capacity, employers, or those matched with the youth during the program provide networking and professional development opportunities in addition to job specifications. Strategic or invested partners are what all employers could strive to achieve. This tier represents true collaboration between employer, youth, school district and/or nonprofit as the employers assist in funding, recruitment, act as mentors, and host partners.  

SYEPs across the region

In Lexington KY, the Summer Youth Job Training Program provides work experiences for 300 youth who are rising 10th, 11th and 12th grade high students. Through the city government and Fayette County Public Schools, participants are exposed to a 6 week work experience, developing soft skills and learning about the workplace. Project Indy is a new SYEP under Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Youth Jobs Initiative, serving Indianapolis and Marion county residents, ages 16-24 years old with summer job opportunities. Similar to other SYEPs, the program will provide youth with soft skill and professional development by partnering with private business and nonprofits.  

Serving Cuyahoga County in Ohio since 1982, Youth Opportunities Unlimited’s’ SYEP assists 14-19 year-olds in high school with 6-week work opportunities. Youth are matched with local nonprofits, schools and businesses, as well as a Job Coach from Youth Opportunities Unlimited that provides support and guidance. The City of Cincinnati’s Youth2Work SYEP through the department of Cincinnati Recreation Commission, partners with city departments (e.g., Cincinnati Fire Department, Department of Public Safety) and local organizations, creating jobs and enrichment opportunities for youth 14-24 years-old. ArtWorks, a Cincinnati nonprofit, pairs youth (youth apprentices) with Teaching Artists to create public art and community projects through the city. Youth ages 14-21 years-old are exposed to building creative professional development skills and networks.  

SYEPs provide youth with work experience AND keep them safe during the summer. States and cities across the country are investing in SYEP, recognizing the importance and long term effects on youth and the workforce. Employers have a unique opportunity to partner with school districts, workforce boards, nonprofits and city departments to create work experience sites and indirectly a potential talent pipeline of future employees.  



About the Author:


Rabina Anand
Independent Consultant
With over 10 years of experience developing partnerships within the education and non-profit industry, Rabina is passionate about bringing community together for positive change. Beginning her career as an educator in Toronto, Canada, Rabina quickly learned the value and importance of education in creating community impact, which led her to pursue a graduate degree in Adult Education and Community Development.

In recent years, Rabina has focused her skills on training new talent within the workforce, specifically through developing internships and building mentor relationships. Rabina also brings a strong foundation and knowledge base in program development and management. Supported by her education, professional experience, and community focus, Rabina is excited to help companies reach their goals.