In February 2009, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which provided $1.2 billion to support summer jobs for disadvantaged youth nationwide. Detroit received $11 million.
The appropriation presented a major opportunity for us in Detroit—it was the biggest influx of funds for youth employment in over a decade. But it also presented major challenges. How were we to design and implement a major youth jobs program that would provide meaningful work experiences for Detroit’s youth in only four months?
Well, we did it! The documentation of Detroit’s successful employment of more than 7,000 youth in 2009 can be found in Brandeis University’s “Innovating Under Pressure: The Story of the 2009 Recovery Act Summer Youth Employment Initiative. “ Released on October 21, 2010 by the Employment and Training Administration of the U. S. Department of Labor, the report is a case study and “lessons learned” from four communities with summer youth employment programs: Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis/Marion County and Phoenix/Maricopa County. The report was conducted by the Center for Youth and Communities at Brandeis University.
Acknowledging that all four cities were forced to plan and implement a summer youth employment program before receiving vital information or critical funds, the cities were also models of success. The hallmark of Detroit’s program was its strong public-private collaboration and philanthropic support.
The leadership of The Skillman Foundation was critical to the success of the Detroit program. Detroit was able to build upon the expertise of the foundation’s Detroit Youth Employment Consortium. Additionally, The Skillman Foundation provided flexible financial support that enabled the Consortium and City Connect Detroit to move forward before the federal funds became available. According to the Brandeis report, “This proved to be an essential factor of success.”
The Brandeis study team “also discovered a vibrant hidden infrastructure of vision, hope, energy, and leadership – and a true ‘discipline of innovation’ – among a core group of game changers in Detroit.” City Connect Detroit is proud to be cited among those “game changers” in Detroit. The federal funds were received by the Detroit Workforce Development Department (DWDD). DWDD selected City Connect Detroit to serve as the summer youth employment coordinator because, as the report said, City Connect Detroit has “a reputation for getting things done.” City Connect Detroit’s main strength, however, is collaboration. Through its participation in the Detroit Youth Employment Consortium and its partnership with the Youth Development Commission, City Connect was able to link the program with valuable community leadership and resources. The Skillman Foundation provided critical financial support during the early implementation of the program.
“Forming internal collaborative working groups or teams to share the responsibility and establish an ‘all hands on deck’ strategy also contributed to success in the four communities,” said the report. “The Chicago and Detroit SYEI experiences were especially noteworthy in this regard.”
Detroit was also cited for its innovative job placements which exposed youth to new economy jobs in healthcare, and the creative and performing arts. According to the report, “Detroit offers the best example of developing green jobs through a private sector partnership devoted to the ‘Greening of Detroit.’”
Despite a deep recession and the very short lead time, Detroit was able to provide meaningful work experiences for more than 7,000 youth, representing 42 percent of the 16,650 youth employed across all four cities.
I agree with the quote included in the report that “ramping up to serve 7,000 kids is not without incident.” But as the report documents, the Detroit collaboration “innovated under pressure and combated obstacles with social and intellectual capital, material assets, and the political will, skills, and strategy to seize this opportunity to make Detroit work for kids.”
This is the bottom line: In Detroit, we got the job done and we did it right. That’s the power of collaboration.
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