Donald Fry: Investing in young workers – the future of our economy

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By: Donald C. Fry 

Remember as a teenager being excited not only for the end of the school year, but for the chance to start making your own money during the summer working on the local college’s landscaping crew or greeting customers at a Greek diner?  

The skills you learned in those first jobs became a foundation for entering the workforce as an adult – be on time, work hard, be responsible and reliable, be polite, get paid.

Pew Center for the States estimates that by 2018 employment growth and retiring baby-boomers will create more than 900,000 job vacancies in Maryland. People with a foundation of skills learned from early work experiences will be needed to fill those vacancies.

On Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and I talked about this need to give young people a foundation for entering the workforce at a news conference about Baltimore City’s Hire One Youth program, part of the YouthWorks program that gives the city’s young people the opportunity to work six-week summer jobs.

Three years ago Rawlings-Blake asked me to help enlist businesses to actively participate by hiring at least one young person for a summer job in the private sector.

More than 80 private-sector employers hired qualified young people in 2012, the inaugural summer of the Hire One Youth initiative. This year, to date, more than 90 businesses have already signed up to participate in the program, which starts at the end of June. However, there is plenty of time for more businesses to sign up to participate in this year’s program, and there are hundreds of qualified students ready to interview for positions.

Participating in Hire One Youth is not a charitable act; it’s an investment in the region’s future workforce and economy. By giving real-world private-sector job experience to these qualified young people from Baltimore City schools, who have already gone through an application process and job-readiness training program, businesses are actively preparing our region’s young people to successfully contribute to our economy.

These young people will be filling those looming 900,000 job vacancies in 2018 and, because of their experiences in Hire One Youth, they will be prepared to make our business future more competitive.

Businesses note that many applicants applying for jobs lack the skills and training necessary to successfully fill vacant roles, and Hire One Youth is helping young people develop those essential workplace skills, as well as exposing them to career options and pathways and preparing them to enter the labor market.

The Hire One Youth initiative differs slightly from its parent Mayor’s Office of Employment Development program known as “YouthWorks” which places young people beginning at age 14  primarily in public-sector positions.

Hire One Youth is specifically tailored for private-sector businesses. Youths selected for the Hire One Youth program must be at least 16 and complete an extensive screening process to identify the most serious and prepared students who are designated for interviews with private-sector employers. Employers are asked to treat workers the same as any other employee. Each applicant must go through an interview process with the company before being hired. Employers have an opportunity to handpick student talent, and potentially hire exemplary students who prove to be valuable assets to their organizations. Companies may choose to pay youths more than the required minimum wage of $1,300 for 25 hours a week for six weeks, and may choose to hire them for longer than the six weeks.

A job coach provided by Hire One Youth monitors the progress of student employees.

Students who participate in the program gain invaluable exposure to the private-sector business environment and a perspective on education and employment options after high school.

Reshaud Debose, a 19-year-old teller at Wells Fargo who was hired after participating in the Hire One Youth program, said during the news conference that his experience at the bank has inspired him to pursue a degree in business. Wells Fargo hosted the news conference, where Regional President Andrew Bertamini, an active supporter of the Hire One Youth initiative, introduced Debose.

“Everyone wants to see you succeed,” Debose said. “Being here has toned my job skills … maybe I’ll take Andy’s job one day.”

Private-sector employers can find information on Hire One Youth here.

Today’s youths are going to be the employees – and employers – of the future.  Investing in our young people is investing in the future of the region and our economy.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.