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U-M program opens doors for young job-seekers

ANN ARBOR—Twenty-two-year-old Tiaja Wynn felt helpless believing that she lacked the confidence, connections and skills to one day become a teacher.

She was working as a money center cashier at a store when she learned about a 10-week employment program that provided the training and resources for her career path. And it worked: she received a full-time job offer as a substitute teacher at an Ann Arbor children’s center.

The program, Summer18, is a partnership between the University of Michigan, Michigan Works! Southeast and Washtenaw County.

“I had no clue how to prepare for a job interview before starting this program,” said Wynn, who is also seeking a graduate assistant position while pursuing a master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University.

“Now I am confident applying for jobs. I learned how to search for them properly and what to look for in a career. The enrichment sessions and training on public speaking are helping me a lot and already changed my career path.”

Summer18, now in its second year, pairs local businesses with youth from Washtenaw County, like Wynn, to provide on-the-job training that sets the stage for careers, opens doors to new industries, and provides mentorship critical to building professional networks. In all, 113 young people, ages 16-24, were hired at U-M and throughout Washtenaw County this summer. At U-M, 51 teens and young adults worked in 43 departments.

“This year we can see more U-M employers offering new positions,” said Jordan Pond, a research assistant for Poverty Solutions and U-M graduate student in public health. “We are one of the biggest employers and this increases our responsibility.”

Poverty Solutions is an initiative that uses U-M assets to prevent and alleviate poverty, which affects millions of people throughout the United States. Through Summer18, Washtenaw County seeks to improve long-term employment opportunities for youth by helping them find the educational path to the right career. Summer youth employment programs have also been shown to reduce crime rates.

In addition to helping young people gain meaningful work experience, Summer18 teaches soft skills, such as attendance, communication and attire, as well as helping participants manage their money.

This is the second year 23-year-old Emanuel Terrell is part of the program. In 2017, he worked at Michigan Creative and, this year, served as a success coach, helping to lead the program.

“It has been a great opportunity. Last year, I learned a lot about videos and social media,” the Detroit native said. “This year, I got to coach and help new students. I could really relate to them since I’ve been in the same position before.”

The program’s hourly wage is $10-$12 based on completion of a high school degree or equivalent. Youth employees are required to work at least 20 hours per week, but some work up to 30 hours.

Esteban Guzman joined the Ford School of Public Policy as an office assistant in the dean’s office. While working on office organization and other administrative duties, his detailed-oriented approach allowed him to focus on project management tasks.

He never envisioned he would work in an office setting, but working at Michigan as a die-hard Wolverine sports fan was “cool,” he said.

“Working over the summer through this program definitely extended my resources and connections,” Guzman said. “The program has prepared me with job experience and abilities to use in the real world—everything that I am working towards that I can use in the future, either when I apply for college or go on to another full-time position.”

Wynn agrees that the program enabled her to use real-world experience that she’s using as an educator in the children’s center. She is learning how to design a play-based curriculum that meets the children’s needs and interests. In addition, she is collaborating with colleagues to ensure all children enjoy group activities, from science projects to music to art.

“In college, my focus was children and families, so I couldn’t be happier working with so many kids,” Wynn said. “They are an inspiration. This job has been really rewarding.”