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Hire One gives first opportunities to city youth

City officials in Baltimore are joining with business and education leaders for the second year in a row to develop a competitive, high-quality workforce.

The Hire One Youth campaign, introduced in 2012 by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, encourages private-sector companies to hire eligible students for summer jobs. After a successful first run, in which 285 students ages 16 to 21 were hired by 81 Baltimore employers, organizers say it’s time to ramp up the effort this year.

Campaign officials have set a goal to double the numbers of participating students and businesses this summer, and they’re already about halfway there. So far, 89 businesses have committed to fill 236 jobs this summer, and the calls keep pouring in.

“This is not just about doing something for young people because it feels like the right thing to do,” said Office of Economic Development Director Karen Sitnick. “But in fact, it’s really all about our future economic development policies, and what we can do to ensure we have a growing economy.”

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said one of the qualities of the program is that Baltimore business owners will have the opportunity to see what unique skills young people possess and how they can leverage them in their companies.

“In Baltimore, all business employers face a fundamental question: ‘Where will be future workforce come from?’” he said. “In Baltimore city, one answer seems very obvious, and that’s the 23,000 students who attend our city high schools. Connecting this large pool of young talent is really what Hire One is all about.”

For Jamyla Bennu, who hired a student to fill bottles at Oyin Handmade, the hair and body products company on North Charles Street she owns with her husband, the campaign hit close to home.

“I was involved with this kind of program myself when I was a teenager growing up in upstate New York,” Bennu said. “Those early work experiences were so important in helping me develop a work ethic and helping me understand what employers are looking for. It sort of introduced me to the work environment, because it’s kind of mysterious when you’re a young person.”

Participating businesses agree to schedule a student for a minimum of 25 hours per week for six weeks and pay them at least minimum wage for a base commitment of $1,200.

When Rashidah Hasan, a 2011 graduate of Patterson High School, walked through the door at Oyin Handmade for her interview, Bennu knew she had found the right employee. She needed to fill the position anyway, she said, and liked the idea of hiring locally and hiring a student.

Hasan, who recently turned 20, said she didn’t know a thing about the shop’s specialty — natural hair products — when she started. She was a quick study, though, and soon knew the ins-and-outs of an industry she previously didn’t know existed. Now, she’s a permanent employee.

She even got a raise.

Building those lasting professional relationships is one of the major goals of the program, Fry said, adding that several other students who were placed in summer jobs also stayed in their positions.

Gaining job experience is especially crucial for young people given the increased competition in the job market. Positions usually filled by young people have been usurped by older, over-qualified applicants hungry for work. The national unemployment rate of 16- to 19-year-olds was 25.1 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in February, compared to 7.7 percent (seasonally adjusted) for the general population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That number is more dismal for minorities, and in Baltimore — where the vast majority of students in the city school system are black — tackling the unemployment problem is one of the biggest challenges. Sitnick said unemployment among Baltimore youth ages 16 to 21 is about 38 percent.

There are 23,372 high school students in Baltimore — many of whom are potentially eligible for the Hire One Youth program. Only students who display a greater degree of independence and maturity are invited to apply to Hire One. Those who need more guidance — about 5,300 students last year — are placed in jobs throughout the city by YouthWorks, a longstanding program for 14- to 21-year olds. They learn basic work readiness, as well as industry-specific, skills.

Hasan was in her third year with YouthWorks when the Hire One campaign began, and she jumped at the chance for a more challenging experience.

“When going through [YouthWorks] before, it was almost as if I was getting jobs automatically,” she said. “But with the Hire One program, it was a real-life experience of going out and having to do a real interview with a potential employer. I had never done that before. Maybe [my peers] haven’t had that experience … so I kind of have an edge over the competition.”