Youth jobs program that trains thousands faces new funding fight

Feb 22, 2018
Ty Greenlees
Ta'nesha Holden, 17, takes notes during the Montgomery County YouthWorks Summer Program at Pontiz Career Technology Center where instructor Mark Anderson teaches job readiness skills through Montgomery County Workforce Development. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

A summer jobs program that trains and employs nearly 2,000 Montgomery County teenagers — most low-income — began taking applications earlier month, but it faces financial challenges again.

YouthWorks, described by county leaders as “critical,” was saved from the state budget axe two years ago but again faces a looming cut, this time from the county.

“It’s concerning for us,” said Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman. “It’s important for us because it builds our future workforce..”

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The 10-week program for students ages 14-18 is designed to improve life skills management, increase job readiness and provide work experience at area employers.

Last year, the county received about 3,000 applications and 1,800 young workers completed the program, gaining experience at about 550 participating employers, said Michael Colbert, assistant county administrator for Development Services. About 175 youths are currently in a year-long program, having stayed on with employers beyond the summer.

In 2016, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services nearly eliminated the program’s funding, of which about $2.3 million goes to Montgomery County. But the region lobbied to get the money back, said Colbert, previously the former director of the department in Gov. John Kasich’s cabinet.

MORE: Thousands of youth summer jobs at risk, area officials say

“Dayton and Montgomery County fought hard to get this funding back,” he said.

That money nearly lost comes from federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Family grants distributed through the state Job and Family Services department. But the Montgomery County Commission provides $500,000, or almost one-fifth of the program’s funds, to help those who might benefit from the jobs experience but exceed the 200 percent of poverty level family income threshold.

Because of a $9 million shortfall to hit the county in 2019, the county’s discretionary spending on the youth program is likely to evaporate, County Administrator Joe Tuss said as the county worked out a five-year budget plan.

Colbert said YouthWorks is safe this year but could face a future diminished.

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“We still haven’t baked all that out yet,” he said. “But the commissioners have made this a priority and we’ll wait for that budget term to come to determine that funding.”

Colbert said the county is expecting to boost the number of youths finishing the 10-week program to 2,500 this summer.

Colbert said the young workers get a meaningful occupational experience, many at advanced manufacturing companies, within the region’s health care systems and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“The number of our employers is going up, and also the quality of our job sites,” he said. “It’s really become a high-tech program.”

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County Commissioner Dan Foley said employers should also find the program attractive. The county provides the participating youth with two weeks of initial training and pays both their wages and workers’ compensation insurance.

“For employers, there’s no better opportunity that you have to give back,” he said. “We’re not going to send them to you just cold.”