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Youth work program has few good opportunities, report finds

Suggests more internships in higher-paying fields


The city’s Summer Youth Employment Program should be doing more to connect young New Yorkers with jobs in high-paying and growing industries such as the tech sector, a recent report from the Center for an Urban Future advocated.

The program, which last summer connected a record 91,000 14-to-24-year-olds with jobs, has disproportionately placed young workers in low-paying fields, according to the Center’s analysis of data from the Department of Youth and Community Development, which runs the SYEP. During the summer of 2022, 15.3 percent of SYEP worksites were in day-care centers and day camps, while 8.4 percent were in the retail industry. 

But the number of opportunities in well-paying industries was much lower. Just 0.7 percent of the worksites that partnered with the SYEP were in the technology industry, while 0.6 percent were in business or finance, and 1.7 percent were in media and entertainment. Although health-care jobs represented 16 percent of the city’s total private-sector jobs, just 5 percent of SYEP worksites were in the medical field.

“SYEP is New York City’s flagship youth employment initiative and Mayor [Eric] Adams and the City Council deserve credit for fueling its growth in recent years. But our report shows that so much more remains to be done to align the program with the key businesses and industries that are driving economic growth in our city,” said Jonathan Bowles, the Center for an Urban Future’s executive director.

DYCD disputed some of the figures in the report, noting that in 2022, 2 percent of SYEP worksites were in the finance sector, while 1.6 percent were in tech. It added that this summer, the program has partnered with 150 tech and IT worksites, which are employing more than 850 participants.

“The Adams administration has made unprecedented investments in DYCD’s Summer Youth Employment Program — the nation’s largest program of its kind — resulting in a record number of participants again this year,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

Employers want more notice

Several industry leaders who were interviewed for the report indicated that there were barriers that made it difficult to attract and retain prospective employers to partner with the program. One such obstacle was that employers were not informed about whether they would be getting any interns — or the number of interns they would be receiving — until late June, even though worksite applications were due in February, according to the report. This year’s program started on July 12.

“It's very little notice,” said Dina Rabiner, vice president of economic development and strategic partnerships at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “We applied to be a job site in the winter. And now we're in June and we've just found out who we’re getting. Why is that process so long?”

The deadline for teens and young adults to submit applications for the SYEP is typically in the spring; for this summer, it was April 14. The Center for an Urban Future recommended that the timeline be moved up so that employers can find out how many interns they will be receiving in April, allowing them time to create a plan to offer participating youth a better work experience.

The Center also found that the number of tech employers who partnered with the SYEP grew in 2020, when it operated as a virtual program known as Summer Bridge. “Several employers who were not previously engaged with SYEP got involved,” said Merrill Pond, the executive vice president of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit. “They saw it as a good opportunity to participate in the program.”

Although the SYEP has become less rigid about whether internships are conducted in-person or remotely as a consequence of the pandemic, the vast majority of worksite internships — 75 percent —were still in-person in 2022. “Once the flexible structure of Summer Bridge dissolved after that year, dozens of tech partners left the SYEP program,” the report indicated.

The short span of the program — it lasts just six weeks — and the fact that placements were made through a lottery system added to the challenges, the report found.

“[Employers] end up not being sure about what to do with the student because you're not sure of the student's level of expertise or content knowledge,” said Tara Bellevue, the vice president of inclusion, diversity, equity and access strategy at NAF, an education nonprofit and a SYEP affiliate.

The report spotlighted the Work, Learn & Grow program, which allows employers to continue internships beyond the summer and provides job readiness training. As part of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams have agreed to expand the program by 5,000 slots.

“Ultimately, SYEP should become a universal program, available to all students each year,” the report stated. “This move would enable stronger year-over-year planning … and enable both young people and employers to build on their relationships over time.”

Adams: Program prevents crime

The lack of year-around employment opportunities is a problem that has been recognized by the City Council, which earlier this year proposed a bill that would require the city to create a yearlong mentorship initiative for SYEP participants. Several Council members noted that ongoing employment opportunities for teens and young adults were especially important because they faced high rates of unemployment: during the first quarter of this year, 17 percent of 18-to-24 year olds weren’t working, according to the Center for New York City Affairs.

The number of teens and young adults who gained employment experience through the SYEP has grown over the past few summers, from 74,884 during the summer of Fiscal Year 2022 to 91,270 in FY 2023. In FY 2023, DYCD received more than 167,000 applications from youth interested in the program. And this year, the SYEP  has partnered with a number of organizations, including Google, HarperCollins and Louis Vuitton.

“For all its successes, however, now is not the time for SYEP to rest on its laurels,” the report stated. “With a few relatively modest adjustments that build on elements of the program already in place, SYEP could both serve its participants more effectively and contribute much-needed horsepower to the high-tech and creative industries that are destined to be the engines of the city’s future growth.”

During an interview this past weekend, Adams said he believed SYEP was key to preventing crimes and keeping teens and young adults out of the criminal justice system. 

“Over 13,000 of the youth living in NYCHA housing [are] participating this year. [There are] 35,000 additional opportunities for those in foster care, unsecured housing, students with disabilities, justice-involved, students in high need New York City public schools. So we're going where you are seeing the pattern that if we leave these children behind, they are the ones that end up in Rikers Island,” he said. “So we're really proud of this program. We're going to continue to expand it.”



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