SEABROOK – Even though school is out for the summer, youth across Prince George’s County have the opportunity to continue learning and building skills with the county government’s Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP).
The program has expanded since its inception to include both more youth participants and more local businesses willing to host them. For the 2017 program, 1,030 students are currently hired, with more than 3,000 expected by the end of the program year. They have been placed with 56 organizations and businesses, plus 28 county agencies. Some of the new business partners this year are Old Line Bank, Industrial Bank and Pepco, according to county documents. The program has also added job coaches and orientation programs for both youth and business partners hosting them.
Youth ages 15 - 19 are eligible for the program, which provides them with a work experience for six weeks during the summer months. Participants have to apply for the positions they are interested in, and also have the opportunity to take career readiness training classes to boost their skills and resumes. The classes are held in partnership with Prince George’s Community College and Prince George’s County Public Schools during the winter and spring months, and students who attend are given hiring preferences.
The job duties vary depending on the student’s assignment, but they are designed to teach real skills.
“They are not just in the corner shredding paper. They are really getting involved in the work,” said Valerie Farrar, who oversees the program in the county Office of Human Resources Management.
For example, the students in the Office of Technology “are tasked with solving a real problem in Prince George’s County using technology. In our health departments, they learn how to tackle things like communicable diseases and environmental issues and how that relates to human health,” she said.
SYEP is also part of the succession planning for county employees, who hope that students who participate will one day fill their roles.
“I was filled with pride to hear that many who worked in county departments and agencies are now considering a career in public service,” wrote County Executive Rushern Baker, III in a letter accompanying the 2015 SYEP annual report. “As we continue to invest in our youth today, they will do great things tomorrow.”
SYEP also enhances Baker’s signature program, the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI), by focusing recruitment efforts in TNI communities, hosting job readiness sessions in or near the neighborhoods and accepting TNI-area youth into the program. In 2015, 54 percent of youth who lived in a TNI community and applied for the program were hired.
Farrar said Baker pushed to expand SYEP several years ago and get more nonprofits and businesses involved.
“We’ve been really hitting the pavement, and getting great responses,” she said. “When they opened their doors, the numbers jumped up.”
One of the new business partners this year is Pepco, which is currently hosting 25 youth. Pepco Regional President Donna Cooper said her company sees the program as a win-win for both the company and the community. The program allows Pepco to further its goals of educating the community and potentially increase its pool of job applicants. Cooper said the SYEP students are able to gain exposure to aspects of the electrical distribution industry they might not have known about, like information technology, accounting and support services.
“As a company, we view ourselves as a true partner to the community we serve. Economic development and support to the community is really innate to who we are as a company,” Cooper said. “These internships are another facet of education, and we can provide exposure to the corporate arena, connect them with mentors, and help students learn about how a corporation works in the community. (And) it’s a significant benefit when you are able to hire people from the community you serve.”
Another new aspect of the program this year, the youth orientation, was organized by new partner Mayson Dixon Strategic Consulting, which has offices in the Lanham area. Monica Briscoe, vice president for marketing and communications, said she and several other Mayson Dixon employees first learned of the program in previous roles working for Prince George’s County government and wanted to “give back and continue the growth in these young people” by getting involved.
They also saw an opportunity to make things more fun for the students.
“Instead of having a boring PowerPoint that loses young adults’ attention, we actually did a fashion show on do’s and don’ts on how you should act and dress in a professional setting,” she said.
Youth involved in the program also say it has helped them gain new skills and apply ones they already have.
David Hughes, a 19-year-old who is working in the county’s office of communication this summer, said he joined SYEP for both cash and experience.
“I got involved in the program to make a little money for the summer, but to also get experience in county government, to just get work skills,” he said.
Aliyah Abdulbarr, a student at Bishop McNamara, is working in the county scheduling department. She hopes to build her resume through the program, and is learning skills like scheduling, filing, and charting which will help her in her future career goals.
“I want to own my own dermatology center, so I’m learning the basics, and it’s really helping me learn everything that I’d need to run the office,” she said.
Hughes said he has learned about time management in his role so far.
“I’m learning to be more productive with my time. Time is money in this office,” he said.