LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Potential budget cuts could be coming to many metro services, including police and fire. Mayor Fischer said it's to cover the state-mandated pension increase. Other programs like SummerWorks could be affected, impacting thousands of local teens in need of jobs.
"It's an easy time in America to think that problems are somebody else's to solve, but it turns out these challenges about workforce and how do I find somebody to come to work at my company are problems that employers can help us solve just by starting to hire one or two kids in the summer,” KentuckianaWorks Executive Director Michael Gritton said. "Research shows kids who work in SummerWorks are more likely to be working a year later and more likely to be in higher education than kids just like them who didn't work in the summer. The primary focus is 16 to 21-year-olds who want an opportunity and know they might need a little help to get it. If that's the kid, we can help them."
Since it started in 2011, SummerWorks has helped connect more than 6,200 Louisville teens to jobs. The program started with 200 kids. In 2018, more than 1,000 kids participated. This isn't just your typical summer gig either. These are big-time opportunities with huge companies like Kentucky Kingdom, UPS, Humana, and many others.
"There ends up being win, win, wins all the way around,” Gritton said.
The companies benefit just as much as the kids.
"Some of our newer leaders have been able to grow their leadership skills by leading a group of students over the summer," Inclusion & Diversity Leader for Humana IT Latisha Schmitt said. "Our experience has been so positive that we really encourage the associates and leaders to look at interns in their departments because it's really growing our future talent pipeline, and we're able to source that right here in our city."
Jordan Hennemann is a perfect example.
"I just enjoy understanding how things work. If I wasn't working on computers, I'd be working on cars,” Hennemann said.
The 20-year-old did SummerWorks in 2017 and got a full-time job at Humana right after. He goes to UofL part-time and studies Computer Information Systems for Cyber Security.
"I had a great experience over the internship, and I thought this is the type of place I'd love to work at. I often found myself comparing it to Google. There are no sleeping pods, but there's just about everything else,” Hennemann said.
He credits the program for making his future that much brighter and hopes it can do the same for others.
"There's so much talent out there and it just needs to be nurtured,” Hennemann said. "You never know what they'll bring to the table."
Success stories like Hennemann’s could be in jeopardy with possible budget cuts. SummerWorks runs on an annual budget of a little more than a million dollars. Half of that comes from metro government. Grants cover the rest.
"The economic investment is very large for a very modest investment,” Gritton said.
The metro money is used to pay for the program's key staff.
"That's going to ultimately just make our talent development system weaker. If they shrink, they serve fewer people. If they serve fewer people, those folks don't get the opportunity that we all want them to have to pursue the American dream. It's really simple and basic,” Gritton said.
Fifty-seven companies have already pledged to partner with the program this year. SummerWorks is hoping to get 100 total committed and make this the biggest round yet. It's also working closely with the JCPS Academies to get even more students involved.
To get involved, visit the program website.