In an age of economic uncertainty, cities across America are focused on stimulating local job markets and developing solutions to ensure financial stability for families and young people. A recent report from the Economic Analysis and Research Network suggests that economic vibrancy at the local level is largely hinged on an educated, skilled workforce capable of taking on a diverse range of jobs. In an effort to spur economic development in their own communities, city governments all over the country are promoting workforce development programs to kick-start the job search among young, working-age residents.
In this effort, “Charm City” is at the front of the pack. Youth Opportunity (YO!) Baltimore is spearheaded by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development and aims to engage out-of-school youth and young adults through a variety of skill building and professional development services that enable them to foster their academic and professional goals. With the support of many community organizations, foundations and agencies including Baltimore Mayoral staff, the City Council, the Baltimore Police Department, and Baltimore City Public Schools, YO! has provided robust program offerings to the young, under-trained, and unemployed in Baltimore since 2000.
Two YO! Baltimore Centers - one on the east end of the city and the other on the west - serve as the primary hubs for programming. Here, participants have access to General Education Development services, job readiness classes and job placement services, career training in high-growth industries, and a range of other programs designed to prepare them for life as a working adult. The impact of this programming has been measurably felt - according to the program’s most recent report, YO! participants earn 35 percent more and are employed at a 42 percent higher rate than their non-participant peers. In the 14 years since the program’s inception, YO! has served approximately 7,000 Baltimore residents ages 16-24.
The consistent, dedicated work taking place both at YO! Centers and the Baltimore Career Academy exemplify the City’s commitment to equipping young people for professional success. Similar to the YO! program, the Baltimore Career Academy is sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development and offers continuing education classes for 16-21 year old Baltimore residents. The Career Academy emphasizes the importance of both career and life skills training for students who have left high school without a diploma, and boast an impressive student success rate - over 80 percent of attendees complete a GED, secure a job, or attend college.
In Baltimore, city leaders understand that the path to successful employment is different for every young person and local programs must be flexible and varied to meet a diverse range of needs. The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development consistently strives to offer services that teach and empower the youngest members of Baltimore’s workforce, stimulating both their professional progress and the life of the local economy.