Labor secretary Solis, Nutter launch summer-jobs campaign

Crystal White, a Germantown High senior, said she appreciated the Labor secretary’s comments. Jane M. Von Bergen
Crystal White, a Germantown High senior, said she appreciated the Labor secretary’s comments. Jane M. Von Bergen
Posted: May 04, 2012

The security suits with the shades were there, keeping careful watch. The business executives called from the employer community sat stiffly in their chairs. The television camera crews filled up the center aisle, all combining to create, in the ornate mayor’s reception room at Philadelphia City Hall, what amounts to an important occasion.

And that’s what it was: U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis visited Wednesday to announce Summer Jobs+ 2012, an online portal and jobs board, with the goal of finding 250,000 positions for young people.

Mayor Nutter asked local employers to find 7,500 summer jobs for teens and called on Philadelphians to contribute $5 each to fund them through the Philadelphia Youth Network’s WorkReady program.

“For five dollars, you could buy a hoagie or buy ... Tastykakes, although you might only be able to see half a movie,” Nutter joked, growing more serious to remind employers that “this is your future workforce, and you need to invest in them now.”

Both the labor secretary and the mayor, all very officially, described their first jobs — hers, at 13, as a recreation aide in Los Angeles; his, at about the same age, at a corner pharmacy in Philadelphia. And both made the point that summer jobs teach social skills so important in the workplace — how to act, what to wear, when to show up.

Both also made note of the somber statistics: Ten years ago in July, the peak month for youth employment, 63.3 percent of young people ages 16 to 24 were working. Last year, that number dropped to 48.8 percent. Nationally, only one in four teenagers 16 to 19 who want to work have jobs.

In 2008, WorkReady put 7,898 Philadelphia teenagers to work in summer jobs. Buoyed by stimulus funding in 2010, the number rose to 11,180. But last summer, two years after the end of the recession, the number dropped to 5,336. Meanwhile, throughout that time, the city’s employer community has contributed about 1,000 local jobs per summer. The rest are funded through various government programs.

Dressed in business attire Wednesday were about 30 high school kids, most of whom had gotten summer jobs in the past through the WorkReady program. Courteous and attentive, they listened calmly, applauding at the proper moments.

But afterward, they rushed the front of the room, eagerly posing for pictures with the labor secretary and the mayor, who, despite a host of handlers, public-relations people and security guards, simply couldn’t escape. (Nor did they seem to want to — it was fun.)

“She related to us,” said Crystal White, 18, a senior at Germantown High School who said she had never been in a building as grand as City Hall before. White has a WorkReady internship at her school, which is why she understood what the labor secretary meant when she talked about the on-the-job mentoring she got as a teenager.

“You know what it means to earn your first paycheck,” Solis said. “When you know people are relying on you, you have to do your best. You have to show up on time, and you have to understand the culture of the place.”

And it’s not always an easy lesson to learn. Solis said her parents worked hard, but they worked in factories. “My parents didn’t go to college, so I had to rely on other people to teach me,” she said.

Solis described how one person suggested that she wasn’t college material.

“He had it half-right,” she said. “He wanted me to be a secretary, but he didn’t say Secretary of Labor.”

Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her Jobbing blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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