Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. meeting on education and youth. What really made this meeting stand out was its participants: About 15-20 youth were present to share their views on challenges to achieving a high school degree and getting jobs and how to overcome those challenges.

At 30 percent, the unemployment rate for Detroit metro youth (ages 16-21) is the highest among large metropolitan areas in the country. Last year, the Social Science Research Council found that 17 percent of metro Detroit young people ages 16-24 were neither in school or working, completely disconnected from any identifiable pathway to getting a job. This proved to be the third-highest rate of youth disconnection in the nation compared to other metro areas.

The numbers are only more staggering when looking at the city of Detroit itself. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of youth ages 16-19 who are in the labor force are unemployed. For young Detroiters aged 20-24, roughly 40 percent are unemployed. (Source: American Community Survey 2011)

These standings are bad news for the city and the region: Research shows that young people with early exposure to careers, and who see the relevance between school and work, are more likely to persist in their education and more likely to achieve socioeconomically, earning more, having better quality jobs, avoiding substance abuse and incarceration, etc.

The Detroit youth I met “got” the benefits of school and work and had some very thoughtful responses when asked how they could better connect to career pathways.

The students were unanimous in their view that they needed greater community support to help them achieve their future potential. This support could come in the form of simple motivation and exposure to careers and other approaches like mentoring, tutoring, and more afterschool programs. Time with adults who cared was a resounding theme.

Fortunately, also at the meeting were plenty of grown-ups in the room, including representatives from Detroit Public Schools, Detroit Police Department, community-based organizations and numerous others, who heard the message and will come together again to identify future action steps.

This is a move in the right direction, according to students, who mentioned the need for greater community engagement and stronger “social networks” (students’ words) to help young Detroiters move successfully through high school and into college and jobs.

Detroit Youth Viewpoints on Challenges and Solutions for Education and Job Attainment
Completing high schoolGetting a job
  • Understanding why a high school diploma is important
  • Support from adults, including teachers, parents (motivation, tutoring)
  • Negative influence from peers
  • Desire/need to start earning money now
  • Transportation to/from school
  • Drug use
  • Pregnancy
  • Lack of a career pathway/strategy for getting jobs
  • Lack of preparedness (curriculum not aligned with job opportunities)
  • Lack of experience and skills
  • Poor interview skills
  • Lack of exposure to employers/employment settings (understanding what it is like to have a job)
  • Lack of understand of career opportunities (whether jobs exists and, if so, which ones are in demand)
  • Lack of role models (adults with jobs)
Most valuable support
  • More after school programs
  • Greater access to tutoring
  • More guidance from adults (including mentoring but also paraprofessional programs that help young people get more adult/educator attention)
  • Better information and counseling about how to go to college or get a job
  • Safety – more visible police presence (on foot, not just on patrol; more positive and less adversarial engagement with community)
  • Parks — safe, open areas with equipment for play
  • Stronger social networks among community partners
  • More job opportunities and exposure for younger kids
  • Employers engaged in and with the schools (job shadowing, mentoring)
  • Better curriculum that helps students prepare for job readiness
  • Training around resume preparation and interviews
  • Information and coaching around available job opportunities, skills and education required, etc.
  • Well-paying jobs that help get people out of poverty


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