Putting the talents of teens to work. Businesses lend a hand in finding summer jobs for city youth
Norberto Ellemberger usually spends his workdays handling multinational clients for Coopers & Lybrand, one of the largest accounting firms in the United States. But for the past few months the bulk of his time has been devoted to a much different endeavor: helping to find summer jobs for thousands of New York's teen-agers. Mr. Ellemberger's firm is this year's ``lead company'' in a six-year-old campaign to rally local businesses to the cause of providing on-the-job experience for this city's huge reserve of unemployed young people. Over that span of years, the program has provided more than 100,000 summer jobs, making it among the biggest such efforts in the United States.
As the Coopers & Lybrand executive with direct responsibility for the ``Summer Jobs '86'' drive, Ellemberger is frequently rushing off to one part of this vast metropolis or another to promote the program. This afternoon it's the borough of Queens.
Before departing, however, he takes a few minutes to describe how the campaign is working toward this year's goal of 35,000 summer jobs.
``It's a very good example of how to put the private and public sectors together under one umbrella, and each one makes a major contribution,'' he explains. The public sector involvement is through schools and government agencies that serve as clearinghouses for the jobs created through Ellemberger's efforts. These agencies also do most of the work of matching jobs and applicants.
The private involvement, of course, comes through the employers who offer a slot for a young, usually unexperienced worker. Participating businesses range from the gargantuan -- AT&T, IBM, major banks -- to the tiny. This year the campaign is making a special effort to develop jobs with small retail businesses in the outlying boroughs, closer to many of the youngsters' homes. ``I like this,'' says Ellemberger, a situation ``where a kid is able to work directly for the owner. It can be a tremendous entry into the world of business.''
The jobs themselves range from errand boys, clerical positions, and receptionists to proof readers and researchers, even an elephant washer at the zoo. ``For some of them this is a very important experience in life, perhaps the first time they've had to go out and get up on time, and learn to manage money. And in some instances, it's a real help to families,'' says the Coopers & Lybrand executive. His company, by the way, hired 35 summer workers over the last two years.
One of them was Frederika Watson from the Bronx. An attractive young woman with her sights set on starting her own clothing business someday, Frederika spent the summer of '84 learning the accounts payable side of Coopers & Lybrand's operation. The following summer, she worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which has been a consistent participant in the jobs campaign. She found she liked accounting work and is currently majoring in that at Manhattan's Baruch College. One of the best things she got from her summer work was ``connections,'' says Frederika, people who know her and what she can do.
Her experience may not be typical. For one thing, both Frederika's parents are well educated; motivation at home was no problem. Still, the summer jobs program opened avenues for this ambitious young black woman that might have been hard to locate otherwise. Overall, the program has a good track record in matching employers with promising employees. Forty-one percent of the employers have been willing to retain the youngsters as part-time workers after they returned to school in the fall, according to Ellemberger.
Skip Robinson, manager of West Side Camera, a Manhattan retail outlet, says this is what happened in his business. Patria Selby, a summer-jobs applicant hired last July, ``worked out very well,'' he says, so they kept her on part time. Whether it was stocking shelves or taking photo-finishing orders, she ``learns real quickly,'' he adds. This is Patria's first job.
What's come from the past five years of experience in developing jobs for youth is the recognition that ``we can do something about the employment situation for youngsters in this town if we go about it in a systematic way,'' says Frank Macchiarola, president of the New York City Partnership Inc. The partnership, a coalition of civic and business leaders, is ongoing sponsor of the summer jobs effort.
Mr. Macchiarola, a former chancellor of New York City schools, notes that the jobs program has grown each year since 1981 regardless of economic ups and downs. He attributes this to the clear recognition among business people in the city that these youngsters can be quite valuable employees, and that a key economic question mark in the future is ``not whether there will be jobs, but whether our people will be prepared for jobs.''
He sees actual on-the-job experience filling in some of the gaps in many high school diplomas -- indicating to prospective employers that a young person has ``job readiness skills.'' Quite simply, he explains, those skills involve such basics as being where you're supposed to be on time, low absenteeism, and appropriate dress.
Macchiarola readily admits that many of New York's youth may be beyond the reach of the summer jobs program, which relies on a certain amount of motivation on the teen-ager's part. Still, the city has many more ``good kids'' than it's given credit for, in his view. ``If you can find a kid that's willing to come in and be interviewed, we can probably find a job for them,'' he affirms.
Accountant Ellemberger seconds that. Public perceptions of the city's youth as drug users or muggers badly distort reality, he says. ``We have been exposed to these youngsters, and I tell you, they are delightful,'' he exclaims.
Will Coopers & Lybrand hit the 35,000-job target for this year? ``I'm optimistic we'll make it,'' says Ellemberger. The business community is ``very responsive,'' he adds, evidence of its recognition both of the negative implications of continued large youth unemployment and the benefits of cultivating experienced workers who may go on to contribute to the city's economy for years to come.