Michigan leads in youth job training. Employment program becomes model for other states

Lajuana Trammell, a 21-year-old from Detroit, is learning how to type and use a computer this summer instead of picking up roadside litter. Ms. Trammell and thousands of other Michigan youths age 18 to 21 are part of a summer youth employment program looked on as a model for other states.

The Michigan Youth Corps is the nation's largest and one of the most successful summer youth employment programs, state and national officials say.

``I'd probably be working in a nursing home or baby-sitting,'' says Trammell, who is working as a secretary for Focus Hope, a nonprofit civil and human rights organization in Detroit. ``I've learned how to answer the phone properly, how to type better, because it was horrible before, and how to use a computer.''

Created five years ago during the height of the recession by Gov. James Blanchard, the Michigan Youth Corps is in the process of putting close to 30,000 youths to work this summer at the minimum wage for at least six weeks. Michigan's Youth Corps is unique, too, in that it places most of the workers in jobs at nonprofit agencies, hospitals, community groups, and municipal offices.

Relatively few of the workers are found picking up roadside litter or cutting weeds, according to Youth Corps officials. ``We have more than 300 job descriptions and our jobs tend to be in the human services field more than any other,'' says Elizabeth Howe, director of the Michigan Department of Labor.

For instance, some jobs deal with helping the retarded or tutoring at camps and schools for the handicapped.

Frank Slobig, co-director of Youth Service America, a nonprofit organization that helps aid and develop youth programs around the nation, says that the Michigan Youth Corps is the largest nonfederal summer youth employment program in the country. He says that the Michigan program's funding is probably larger than many of the federal allotments for youth employment in many individual states.

``I'd be hard pressed to find any serious problems with it,'' Mr. Slobig says. ``Other states have to be very envious about Michigan, particularly because of its scale and funding.''

Slobig emphasizes that a youth employment program will not be effective in the long run unless there is some remedial education involved or inducements to get dropouts back into school. Michigan's program is one of a few that offers some help in both these areas.

``This year for the first time we made the statement that every youth who could not find a job in the private sector could come forth and be guaranteed a job,'' says Ms. Howe, ``and 30,175 came forward and signed up.''

The governor and the Department of Labor were able to make that statement because the Legislature doubled the program's funding to $30 million this year, Howe says.

Howe stresses that the work experience is valuable for most of the Youth Corps cadets because often it's their first job. Many are just learning that they have to come to work on time, work a full day, and call ahead if they are sick or can't make it to work, Howe says.

``I've had calls from several states about the program,'' says Susan Allen, director of communications for the Michigan Department of Labor. ``They start out with real general questions about what the program is and how it works, and I end up sending them out a pack of information on it.''

Ms. Allen says she has received inquiries about Michigan's Youth Corps from officials in Oregon, Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, and Puerto Rico.

She says she believes that many of the other calls she receives are coming from aspiring politicians who hope to ride a Youth Corps proposal to higher office in their state.

``How can you miss?'' Allen asks. ``You're putting kids to work and getting things done for the state and serving people, too.''

Howe says that the program also has some 34 major employers in the state that guarantee job interviews to corps graduates because they believe they are better prepared to enter the work force.

``I love it. It's hard and it beats working at McDonald's or some other fast-food place,'' says Ruby Dixon, 20, who is working as an oral surgeon's assistant at Detroit Receiving Hospital. ``We help assist the doctor, sterilize the instruments, and take X-rays, blood pressures, and temperatures of the patients.''

Detroit Receiving Hospital, where Ms. Dixon works, has 70 Youth Corps workers among its 1,900 employees this summer, according to the hospital's human resources director William Midgley. Detroit Receiving is one of the city's largest hospitals and is renowned around the country for its emergency-room treatment.

``We think it's a good program and very productive,'' Mr. Midgley says. ``We find the participants are very enthusiastic and upbeat.''

Midgley says the cadets are placed in lower-level jobs that often give them some exposure to caring for patients.

``It's important to note that they are working under the close supervision of qualified personnel,'' Midgley adds. ``We probably hire a couple each year permanently and, several will ask to work with us the following summer.''

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