“How many of you work for an organization that has hired a SummerWorks employee or supported with a donation?” Mayor Greg Fischer asked, putting audience members at his annual State of the City address on the spot. Although some hands went up, Fischer wasn’t satisfied.
“For context, SummerWorks is maybe the No. 2 program of its kind in the country. No. 1 is in Boston. And if the Boston mayor asked that question up there, the number of hands raised would be overwhelming.”
SummerWorks, the youth jobs program that Mayor Fischer joined with KentuckianaWorks in response to shrinking federal funding, has grown impressively. Since it began in 2011, the program and its partner employers have gone from employing just 200 youth to over 6,200. Last year, 91 organizations – including UPS, Kroger, Thorntons, Norton Healthcare, GE Appliances, Humana, Kindred, Kentucky Kingdom, Omni Hotel and many more – hired young people through SummerWorks.
But despite this growth, Fischer reiterated that more employer engagement is needed to get Louisville’s workforce prepared for the future. He also emphasized how critical this program can be in the lives of youth from disadvantaged backgrounds:
“The SummerWorks experience is especially important for ambitious young people whose families don’t have the connections that the young people in your families have.”
Data shows that high schoolers who participate in SummerWorks are more likely to be employed and attend college one year later. Out-of-school youth are also more likely to be employed one year after participating.
In a nutshell, SummerWorks coordinates with local companies and nonprofits to place youth age 16-21 in quality work experiences for about seven weeks during the summer. The private-sector companies pay their SummerWorks participants just like a regular employee.
Although some employers who are unfamiliar with the program can be hesitant to make this commitment, those who have hired through SummerWorks understand the tangible value these young people bring to their organization.
Christy Decker, who was the HR Manager for locally-headquartered company D.D. Williamson last season, admitted they weren’t sure what to expect.
“Before we committed to SummerWorks, we thought the young people might require a lot of hand holding,” Decker said mid-way through the summer, “but the reality has been the total opposite. They learn very quickly and are much more efficient than we expected. If anything, we’re the ones who had to scramble to find them higher-level work. We’re months ahead of where we’d be otherwise.”
Other companies are similarly enthusiastic. “Five years ago we reopened Kentucky Kingdom,” the theme park’s President and CEO Ed Hart said last season, “and now we are a very successful park and that’s in no small thanks to the SummerWorks program.” Kentucky Kingdom set a new SummerWorks record in 2018, hiring 156 youth directly through the program.
Some companies, like GE Appliances, have quickly hired SummerWorks participants full-time after seeing what they can accomplish in just seven weeks. “SummerWorks has been an excellent way to recruit motivated, energetic youth who have brought fresh thinking to our manufacturing operations” says Bill Good, VP of Manufacturing at GE Appliances. Humana, another top employer for the program, hosted its own SummerWorks-only hiring event at its headquarters last year.
These aren’t isolated examples: Over 90% of employers from the 2018 season said they intended to hire again in 2019. One of the reasons for this is that SummerWorks offers a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Louisville youth.
“This is the first job I’ve ever had. I want to open my own dental practice one day so it’s been especially valuable to get to work in a healthcare setting,” said Sarika Polcum, who worked at Humana for the summer. Another participant, Elanna Carr, said working on Hilliard Lyons’ finance team led her to change her college major to Economics.
Even though a number of major employers have increased their SummerWorks interns year-to-year, more companies are needed to ensure motivated youth who need a summer job aren’t turned away.
“Government can’t do this alone,” Mayor Fischer stressed. “Your city needs you. If you’re concerned about, or complain about, the youth of today, here’s one of the best ways to make a positive difference.”
If you’re interested in learning more about SummerWorks and how to get involved, please complete the form below and Program Director Chris Locke will reach out to you soon.