Strategy overview

  • Short-term paid employment: Youth employment and internship programs connect young adults (mostly high school students) to paid jobs. These employment experiences generally occur during the summer, but can also occur at other intervals of the school year. Students are generally paid hourly, though rates may vary by employer.
  • Exposure to professional environments: A primary focus of summer youth employment is to provide participants with exposure to professional settings while beginning to developing work skills. 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.
  • Coaching and mentorship: Robust youth employment and internship programs generally include formal supervision and frequent opportunities for feedback. Centrally administered programs (such as ones run by a school district or chamber of commerce) may also provide an additional coach or mentor — often an alumnus of the same program and high school — who can help students troubleshoot any challenges and identify opportunities for improvement or growth.
  • School-year skill building: Effective summer youth employment and internship programs typically include professional skills workshops and programming during the school year. This can include help identifying and applying for specific summer opportunities, drafting resumes, and communicating in a business setting. Some workshops or lessons may be delivered by employers, who can also use the setting to meet students and answer questions.

What evidence supports this strategy?

A systematic review and multiple randomized control trials indicate that summer youth employment has strong short-term effects on wages, employment, and academic achievement in some cases; however, further studies are needed to replicate the effects and demonstrate long-term impacts.

  • A 2022 systematic review of 13 randomized control trials found that summer youth employment programs can boost earnings and employment among youth, especially among those who may otherwise have difficulty finding employment. Summer youth employment programs can also reduce involvement in the criminal justice system for at least a year. The review found that there were mixed outcomes in improving educational outcomes.

  • A 2019 systematic review found that summer youth employment programs increase earnings during participation (these effects are not sustained), and may decrease arrests due to violent crime up to 17 months after participation.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Providing summer youth employment opportunities has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are effective public education, preparation for college, employment opportunities, opportunities for income, and social capital.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring the effectiveness of public education in your community: Examine the average per-grade change in English Language Arts achievement between the third and eighth grades. These data are available from Stanford University’s Education Data Archive.

  • Measuring preparation for college in your community: Examine the share of 19- and 20-year-olds with a high school degree. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring opportunities for income in your community: Examine the household income at 20th, 50th, and 80th percentiles. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring social capital in your community: Examine the number of membership associations per 10,000 people and the ratio of residents’ Facebook friends with higher socioeconomic status to their Facebook friends with lower socioeconomic status. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns and Opportunity Insights’ Social Capital Atlas, respectively.

Best practices in implementation

  • Design programs alongside employers: 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.
  • Maximize diversity of opportunity: 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.
  • Invest in ongoing training: 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 filing timesheets).
  • Collect and evaluate data to refine the program: 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.

Evidence-based examples

Employment program that engages approximately 10,000 youths per summer in a six-to-seven week program
High school graduation
Umbrella organization unifying summer skill-building programs across Chicago
High school graduation High-quality employment
Largest youth employment program in the country, connecting NYC youth to paid work experience and career development each summer
High school graduation High-quality employment
Provides job training in construction and other high-demand employment sectors
High school graduation High-quality employment