LaGuardia Community College wrapped up its 20th year running New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) with participants giving presentations and reflections on their experiences during closing ceremonies with peers as well as program and college staff.
“I wanted to earn money, but I also want to build a foundation for the future, to build skills so I can start a career,” said Tayler Marin, 15, who participated in the program for the first time.
“I was interested in the program because I want to be more confident and get more work experience,” said Yuli Chavarria, also 15. “And I got to spend time with people outside of my usual nucleus.”
Since 1995, SYEP at LaGuardia has been providing thousands of the city’s youth with paying jobs, valuable work experience, college and career exploration opportunities, and workforce readiness and financial literacy training during the summer break.
This year, LaGuardia’s SYEP has placed 2,000 youth—its largest cohort to date—at over 260 employer sites throughout the five boroughs.
“LaGuardia Community College is laser-focused on improving the work-based skills of all New Yorkers,” said Gail O. Mellow, the college’s president. “SYEP is essential to giving our city’s youth the opportunity to learn and gain needed work experience. When looking to build our city’s middle class, SYEP is exactly the type of program we need.”
The citywide program, which serves those ages 14 to 24, is the nation’s largest summer job program for youth. Sponsored by New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), with city and state funding, SYEP has been running for over 40 years (originally under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act/CETA). With over 60 “contractors,” including LaGuardia, the program serves approximately 50,000 young adults annually.
“There are so many youth who can’t find employment without the government investing in this program,” said Adjoa Gzifa, Director of LaGuardia’s Workforce Education Center, who runs SYEP at the college. “The city and state understand young people need to have something to do in the summer and that they need to help them.”
Recent data supports this notion. A study done by officials at University of California – Berkeley, U.S. Department of Treasury, and University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School in January 2015 shows that New York City’s SYEP succeeds in employing youth who typically would not have found other jobs, with an increase of average earnings of $900. Furthermore, the program keeps youth out of trouble as well as danger by reducing incarceration by 10% and mortality by 20%.*
SYEP participants are placed into three categories: younger individuals (14-15 year-olds); older individuals, which is the largest group (16-24 year-olds); and vulnerable youth (those in both age groups who have court involvement, are in foster care or homeless, or have a disability). There is also a special program for a small number of exceptional students.
While many participants are college students who need to earn money for their tuition, Gzifa points out that SYEP targets all New York City youth who can benefit from the program’s resources. “It’s not just about the jobs; it’s about helping young people understand and navigate the workforce,” she said. “SYEP provides workshops on career readiness, higher education, workforce preparation and financial literacy. We make sure participants are well rounded and well versed in what is required to get a job and do the job correctly, including soft skills, such as punctuality and notifying your supervisor if you need to be out. They’re learning the process for the future.”
“I learned how to write a resume; about interviews and the questions they ask; and about team work,” said Thuraiyaa Jarrett, a 17-year-old high school student who worked this summer in the office of the Vice President of Adult and Continuing Education at LaGuardia, of the workshops she attended. “I also learned more about computer programs, like Excel. I liked working in an office environment. SYEP gives you a chance to see where you want to be in life.”
Some other LaGuardia SYEP employers include retail stores, such as A&E Stores, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Key Food; New York City agencies, such as City Council, Department of Design and Construction, Queens Borough President’s Office, Queens Supreme Court and Queens District Attorney’s Office; and hospitals, such as Coler-Goldwater and Henry J. Carter.
Those in the youngest age group have the option to participate in a paid service learning project instead of taking a traditional job. These projects allow them to explore a field—such as civic engagement, community service, environmental sustainability, disaster preparation, hunger and nutrition, or technology—and implement what they learn in a meaningful way.
“LaGuardia’s SYEP covers all the bases,” said Gzifa. “We have 21 of our own program employees, about half of which are LaGuardia degree students or alumni who work as site monitors or service learning project teachers. And, our SYEP participants are a very diverse group, which includes youth with disabilities. So, we’re providing a lot of jobs and professional experiences to a large amount of young people.”
*Gelber, Alexander and Isen, Adam and Kessler, Judd B., The Effects of Youth Employment: Evidence from New York City Summer Youth Employment Program Lotteries (January 5, 2015). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2545445 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2545445