Summer youth employment programs

Program basics

  • Summer youth employment programs connect young adults to paid summer jobs typically lasting 6-8 weeks. Payment is most often hourly (rather than a stipend). Rates may vary by employer.
  • Programs primarily seek to provide participants with exposure to professional settings and to begin developing skills to maintain stable employment and build careers. Some programs combine formal work experience and summer learning, including time spent in the classroom and real-world opportunities to apply those lessons. Jobs typically span the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
  • In some instances, summer youth employment programs are operated as part of a broader anti-violence strategy. Others are primarily workforce development initiatives.
  • Robust summer youth employment programs typically include strong on-the-job coaching (delivered from the program) and mentorship opportunities (often provided by the student’s supervisor at their job).
  • Effective summer youth employment programs typically include professional skills workshops and programming during the school year, including help identifying and applying for specific summer opportunities, drafting resumes, and communicating effectively in a business setting.
  • While summer youth employment programs are often available to young adults ranging from 14-24 years old, the vast majority of participants are enrolled in public high schools. This is, in most cases, the result of concerted recruitment campaigns and/or formal partnerships with high schools.

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Promising (Third-highest tier)

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Promising (Third-highest tier)

Summer youth employment initiatives are not yet represented in major clearinghouses but some specific programs are recognized by experts as being important contributors to upward economic mobility.


Target population

High school-aged children

Program cost

$1,000-$2,000 per participant

Implementation locations

Dates active

1990s-Present

Outcomes and impact

  • Note: The outcomes and impacts identified below represent those of rigorously evaluated and robust programs, such as in Chicago, New York, and Boston. Some rigorously evaluated summer youth employment programs have had limited or no impact on the included outcomes.
  • Increased earnings and employment rates during and after high school
  • Reduction in arrests among participating youth
  • Improved education outcomes, including school attendance and high school graduation rates
  • Impacts were most significant among participants of color and participants from low-income families

Keys to successful implementation

  • To shape participant recruitment efforts and to inform the employer selection process, engage deeply with a range of key stakeholders on both the supply and demand sides of the labor market, including the local workforce board, chamber of commerce, major employers, high school counselors, and more.
  • Recruit employers from across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to increase the likelihood of a strong match between participants and available opportunities. During this process, ensure that employers are appropriately vetted, including evaluating their capacity to provide on-job supervision and mentorship, learning opportunities, and market-appropriate wages.
  • Provide extensive pre-job training and professional development programming, ideally delivered at schools. This can include soft skills training in areas like communication, collaboration, and interviewing), along with hard skills training (writing a resume, completing online applications, and completing timesheets).
  • Solicit feedback via surveys and interviews from both employers and participants. Doing so can help programs identify high-quality employers, refine pre-job trainings, and demonstrate the impact of the experience to prospective participants and employers.

SummerWorks - Louisville, KY

SummerWorks - Louisville, KY

SummerWorks: Connecting Louisville-area young adults to high-quality summer employment

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