Philly's summer youth employment program endured despite COVID-19

WorkReady students participate in a video conference call
Photo credit Courtesy of WorkReady
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With many organizations struggling to cope with COVID-19, the future of Philadelphia’s summer youth employment program was unclear. But sponsors, employers, and partners were able to pivot to redesign the program for the pandemic.

For years, the WorkReady program has given thousands of teens across the city an opportunity to earn money and teens professional and life skills while out of school.  

As a summer employee for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, 15-year-old Brazil Johnson spent weeks handing out meals to students while they were out of school. She says, without the summer job, she would’ve been stuck inside without anything productive to do. 

“I love kids," Johnson said. "I wanted to work with the kids, interact with the kids, play games with the kids, tik tok — but we weren’t able to do that because of COVID."

Her WorkReady experience wasn’t exactly what she was expecting, but she says it was still beneficial for her future and for the children she served. 

"I still had an important job," she said. “Since WorkReady is under PHA, we have a bigger opportunity of getting a job for PHA. It look(s) really good on our resume. We will have a better opportunity at getting interviews for a good job.”

While some students like Johnson responded to the pandemic, Urban Affair Coalition President Sharmain Matlock-Turner says hundreds of others gained experience working in an online, professional setting. 

“Our summer youth employment program is about seeing it, so you can be it,” she said. 

Matlock-Turner says she’s proud that they were able to give so many students the summer work experience they count on. Nearly 20,000 teens applied for the program this year, and only about half were accepted. 

“Please support our teens," she said. "If we had 20,000 kids that signed up this year, we have to say no to the half of them. We want to make sure ultimately every teen that wants a summer job has one every year.