DTE Energy Foundation grant funds summer jobs
At-risk teens will learn the hard and soft skills required in the business world.
This may be a life-changing summer for approximately 120 of West Michigan’s at-risk teenagers.
The 15- to 18-year-olds from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds will work with local nonprofits, build their resumes, get mentored, learn workforce skills and take the first steps toward careers some may have never dreamed of.
The cost: a $150,000 grant.
The DTE Energy Foundation recently awarded the grant to Muskegon-based United Way of the Lakeshore to partner with Michigan Works! West and North Central on the Summer Youth Nonprofit Work Experience Program. It will employ youth for the summer in Muskegon, Oceana, Mecosta and Lake counties.
“Without this summer program, many might not have the chance to work. During the summer, they will work in positions that benefit the people and the community at large,” said Christine Robere, president and CEO of United Way of the Lakeshore.
“The youth … are from families often where one or both parents are working but are having a difficult time meeting their basic family needs. We refer to these ‘asset limited, income constrained, employed’ workers as ALICE. The summer youth work experience is a program that helps give the youth a leg up as they begin their careers and/or education.”
The program lasts for six to eight weeks, depending on the job. It starts at the end of June and runs until late August. The money will help pay the wages of the teens enrolled in the program. Michigan Works! recruits the employers and youth, pairing them and monitoring their involvement over the summer, said K.P. Pelleran, director of planning, advocacy and grants for United Way of the Lakeshore. Students are also referred to the program by their schools, clergy or recruitment fairs, she said.
“DTE increased its gift this year by 50 percent to employ more youth. We’ll have at least two youths from Grand Rapids, and we didn’t do anything in Kent County,” she said.
“These are kids who’d normally be hard to place because they have low socio-economic backgrounds. DTE’s philosophy is if we have can get the kids the right skill set, that’s more kids that are poised for the workforce.”
The program teaches both hard skills — the labor skills such as working on a computer and managing and filing tasks — as well as such soft skills as being professional, courteous and timely. Programs like this help teens figure out how to get a job, build a resume and network to find jobs, Pelleran said.
These students might have big dreams but not much exposure to learning how to achieve them, which is where the nonprofits can help, she said.
“Most of the jobs in the metro area are with nonprofit agency directors. In the north central area, we have kids working in the national parks program. But mostly it’s learning how to work in an office for a nonprofit and what nonprofit opportunities are all about. This teaches hard and soft skills. If kids can learn to be productive in the workplace, that’s half the battle,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful partnership, but it does take a lot of folks to make this possible, and it does help kids from hard life situations to gain employment and perspective on a career, even for college, and gives them mentors to help them get there.”
The program also includes talent tours where teens can learn about job options from other employers.
“At the end of the program, we have a service learning project. We’ll also have a parent orientation program where the parents will be seeing the referrals their sons and daughters are having … so they, too, can be exposed to what their students are being exposed to,” Pelleran said.
It’s harder for teens to find summer jobs these days, Pelleran said. There are fewer jobs to go around, and teens have to build relationships with employers to secure those that are left — a task that is especially tricky if they’re not from connected families.
“You’ve got age restrictions you didn’t have before. You’ve got restrictions on what kids can and can’t do. And you want them to be in safe environments. But if they’re in rural areas, and they’re from at-risk families where Mom and Dad don’t have a job and they live in areas that that would make it hard for them to get to a job, those are all barriers,” she said.
“And if you’re not raised in an environment with those soft skills, how do you know how to find those jobs?”