The city of Hartford announced a new career “navigation” program for the city’s youth on Tuesday, with the dual goals of helping young people find job opportunities and training the next generation of workers for thousands of unfilled jobs in the state.
The Hartford Youth Career Navigation System, slated to launch in September, will connect young people ages 16 to 24 with a wide array of work opportunities, professional training, mentorship and other resources around the region aimed at easing their transition into the workforce.
The program targets the roughly 8,000 “opportunity youth” in Hartford, who are out of school or out of work. Statewide, that number approaches 40,000, according to the United Way.
“Having a career navigator that is dedicated to helping our young people identify opportunities, see pathways, look beyond just a couple of months during the summer to the years ahead, and prepare for work, prepare for a career, build toward it in a deliberate, intentional way — that’s a really important thing,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said at a press conference announcing the program Tuesday.
Those young people also represent an opportunity for employers around the state, who are struggling to fill open positions. Business leaders say there are currently more than 100,000 job openings statewide, and the number of working people in Connecticut has declined this year, falling below 1.9 million in May for the first time since September 2021.
“From an opportunity perspective, we have significant job growth in our economy, and … a tremendous amount of ‘Help Wanted’ ads,” said Alex Johnson, chief executive of Capital Workforce Partners. “Every employer is looking for workers; every job is looking for an employee.”
The challenge, Johnson said, is connecting young people on the margins of the workforce to the opportunities that are available — “building a pathway and a pipeline for young people to see opportunity and to seize these opportunities.”
This summer, Hartford, with Capital Workforce Partners and other affiliate groups, plans to hire a program coordinator who will gather information on career and training programs available to young people in the region and serve as a point of contact. The program has received financial support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the United Way and other foundations.
In the meantime, CWP’s Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program internships are underway, supported by the city as well as grants from the Labor Department, the Hartford Foundation and Bank of America.
Hartford leaders allocated an additional $300,000 in federal American Rescue Plan funding to the city’s SYELP contribution after an anticipated funding increase from the state fell through during budget negotiations. The increased program funds will allow CWP to place more applicants in internships this summer.
“Our young people need exposure to the workplace. This is the best vehicle to do that,” Johnson said.
Valerie Fernandez, a former participant in SYELP, spoke at Tuesday’s press conference about the benefits of that experience. Fernandez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and moved to Hartford at 13, had internships at the Center for Latino Progress during high school. She continued working for the organization and is now a youth development specialist there while pursuing a pre-law program at Central Connecticut State University.
Fernandez also attended workshops that helped her weigh different career options. That experience “provided me with the resources and the guidance needed for career exploration, which ultimately helped me discover my interests, my values, my strengths and my weaknesses,” she said.
Kristina Baldwin, director of Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, said CWP’s summer internships program “is not only an opportunity for a paycheck, but it actually teaches skills.”
She also offered a pitch to any students who weren’t accepted to SYELP this summer: her department is hiring.
“Definitely reach out to us at the Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, and we will do our absolute best to help support you and all of your goals,” Baldwin said.