FIRST THE BACKGROUND: for the last two years, the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program has been a disaster. Now the news: by comparison, this year's program has been the best ever. Ivanhoe Donaldson, acting director of the Department of Employment Services, and Matthew Shannon, director of the summer program, deserve congratulations for repairing the basic structure of the summer program. This year the youngsters generally got to the work sites they were assigned to and found someone there who expected and was able to supervise them. And come payday they were able to take home a check. This may not sound like a great accomplishment, but the program was not able to do even those things in the past.
There is, however, more to be done to make a really good program--one that gives youngsters work experience that will help them to get and keep jobs later on. For example, job orientation for the young people as well as their counselors remains inadequate. Another source of trouble was the program's reduced size. It was pared down to compensate for the fact that higher pay scales were in effect this year, although the program's funds had not been increased. Now as the program draws to a close, however, the Department of Employment Services finds that it has CETA money for the summer program left over. To avoid returning the money to the federal government, summer jobs have been extended at several sites. The money being used to extend those jobs should have been used to hire more young people at the beginning of the summer, giving more youngsters a chance to work. After all, that's the purpose of the program.
This year's effort remedied the obvious flaws that made for embarrassment for the mayor. Step Two will be to improve the program so that it has more value for the poor young people who take part. This can be done with better orientation for the youngsters and, even more important, for their supervisors, who need to be shown how to make the summer experience more than pretend work. Added attention also needs to be given to the types of jobs youngsters are asked to do; the more challenging the better. Of course, no improvements in the substance of the program could be possible if the mechanics of the structure were still in chaos. For fixing the big machine--if not the product --officials deserve applause.