When you work with young people in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods, it’s easy to see how important it is for them to be able to get a job one day.
Before they do, it’s even more important they know how to apply for a job.
Many young people looking for jobs this summer want to work but lack some fundamental training in how to make that happen. Sadly, many of them live in households where some that type of information isn’t readily offered by the adults in their lives.
James M. Ferguson, executive director at Career Youth Development, puts it more plainly.
“They don’t know because many of them don’t live in households with working parents,” he said, referring to chronic black unemployment in some areas of Milwaukee. “There’s no working parent for them to learn from.”
That was the reason CYD began to offer application workshops so young people could learn an important first step in seeking a job: Learning how to fill out the application.
Ferguson said although some of the problem could be attributed to poor reading or writing skills, with other young people it was a matter of getting young people to learn how to describe their previous work experience for an employer. Many young people at CYD have worked for years at various summer or part-time jobs but the act of filling out an application remained an uncomfortable one.
“We want to show them how to fill out an applicant correctly so the employer is interested,” said Ferguson during an interview at CYD offices on King Drive. “A lot of them have work experience but they just can’t articulate it. Sometimes it’s because they don’t come from households where that comes easy to them and there’s tension.”
Ferguson said the city’s jobs program for young people through the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board was offering “hundreds” of jobs this year for youth ages 14-17 years old. As in previous years, CYD is working to prepare young applicants for the interview, including personal presentation and awareness about workplace protocol.
CYD is holding regular application workshop sessions until the May 1 st. deadline at their offices at 2601 N. King Dr. Some items required for the workshop are a copy of a birth certificate, social security card, drivers’ license or proof of income from a parent or guardian.
It seems a simple enough checklist but for a young person living in a challenging environment, it’s not as easy as it seems. Ferguson said that many CYD youth had trouble getting their parents to provide items like birth certificates or even social security numbers.
He suspects many of them are intimidated by the application process, which doesn’t bode well for young African-Americans living in a city with a huge black unemployment problem.
“Every year, it’s a struggle to get them to apply,” said Ferguson, who said his agency was requesting about 30 summer jobs for young people in the area but would probably receive less than that.
He was concerned that some young people didn’t understand the importance of filling out a job application correctly, particularly given the competition from other young people across the city.
“If (employers) don’t see what they want, they will just weed them out,” said Ferguson. “That’s why we want our kids to be able to compete.”
With all of the political attention on photo ID for voting, it’s likely CYD’s efforts to teach young people on the north side how to use personal information in a job search will pay off with a more informed population. It could also lead to a future generation of citizens who won’t have any trouble producing the kind of documents required.
It will be even better if some of these young people learning how to fill out job applications today end up getting that much desired call as a result.