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The University of Michigan is an active partner in SummerWorks, the Washtenaw County Summer Youth Employment Program, a 10-week summer employment and mentorship program that pairs employers with local youth to provide on-the-job training. SummerWorks is a community-focused, public-private-university partnership that connects youth to resources for building professional networks, exploring career opportunities, and developing essential job and leadership skills.

In 2016, the Washtenaw County Summer Youth Employment Program launched as a partnership between MichiganWorks! Southeast and the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development. In 2017, the University of Michigan joined the partnership to provide employment opportunities across campus and pair local youth with faculty and staff to help them gain work experience, mentorship, and professional development training.

Since U-M partnered with the program, over 150 youth have been placed in a variety of jobs across the scope of the U-M enterprise. Our partnership continues to expand to include Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, the A2Y Regional Chamber of Commerce, and more. As the program continues to grow, we are excited to offer mentorship and employment opportunities again this summer.


Why Summer Youth Employment?

For young people today, the job market is more competitive and challenging now than in previous generations. Employers have high expectations and an increasing demand for more education and skills. As a result, young people — especially those lacking access to quality education, reliable job training, and professional development opportunities — can find it difficult to navigate the workforce, post-secondary education, and the transition into adulthood.

On the surface, Washtenaw County appears to be one of the wealthiest and most educated counties in the state. However, due to a long history of disinvestment and systemic racism in housing, employment, and education policies, disparities in education and economic outcomes persist for youth throughout our local community. Problem-solving, communication, leadership, and other “soft” skills are required for success in the workforce; however, these skills are not built into our formal education system. Opportunities to develop them as well as identify professional networks are not easily accessible—young people often encounter structural barriers when entering the workforce or pursuing higher education because job access and training resources are not equally distributed across communities. SummerWorks promotes equity in our community by creating opportunities for youth to explore careers and educational paths, build professionalism skills, and engage in mentorship that prepares them for future success in higher education, the workforce, and beyond.

About the Research

SummerWorks is both an opportunity to provide jobs and identify best practices for programs of this kind. U-M aims to build a rigorous evaluation structure grounded in principles of Positive Youth Development to research the effectiveness of different strategies. This program is one of the first of its kind to be conducted by a major university; it is unique because it will not only measure the program’s impact but also use research to determine best practices for engaging and mentoring youth.

>>See the SummerWorks Mentoring Guide published in November 2020 (PDF)

>> Read more about our youth employment research

“[SummerWorks] connected me with my first internship experience at Social Good Promotions as a marketing intern. And that was wonderful and opened so many doors for me. I was really so blessed to work with my bosses then, and I got to be hired again after that at Social Good. Then it got me another internship this summer just because I had that background. So along with those internship experiences, which were incredible, I got professional development help, and an amazing mentor. Her name was Helen, and she helped me not only professionally but at the time I was applying to colleges, so she helped me look into how I should write my applications and stuff like that. It was really full circle development.”

-Rhea Galbraith, SummerWorks Participant

“It has been an amazing opportunity for us at Ann Arbor SPARK to have these talented kids working with us. For me, [I’m] very grateful because I have been able to share with him my experience and show him my daily routine that [I do] as a program manager…This opportunity to have our intern at SPARK has helped me a lot in terms of [documenting] all the processes that we have – they helped me a lot in terms of putting those ideas on paper.”

-SummerWorks Employer 2023

“I felt like we bonded over personal things, more than that I helped them with [their] work situations… One of my mentees wanted to know about my experience teaching. He’s thinking about being a teacher, so it was more about [that experience and] general stuff like getting older, paying bills, moving out on your own.”

-Karen Haug, SummerWorks Mentor 2023


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