Everyone remembers their first summer job, whether it’s serving as a camp counselor, answering phones in an office, or waiting tables at a local restaurant. A summer job is a hallmark of school break, a fundamental rite of passage for millions of teenagers. For some, it’s their initial exposure to a professional office environment. And for nearly two decades, Harvard has offered students within its footprint of Boston and Cambridge the chance of gainful summer work.
The Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) has been instrumental in helping local teenagers develop strong work habits, establish networks, and acquire real-world work experience. For many, it’s not just a paycheck, but an opportunity to learn how to meet deadlines, be accountable, and contribute to a team.
“Over the course of their summer jobs, students develop skills and make connections that can have a huge impact on their future success. Summer employment gives students the opportunity to grow professionally and personally,” said Josh Bruno, the school-to-career director with the Boston Private Industry Council.
For Harvard departments, SYEP is a cost-effective way to fill temporary staffing needs while also giving back to the community. More than 80 percent of the managers who responded to last year’s program survey rated their student workers’ performance as excellent. For some developing managers, overseeing the teenagers was their first experience in a supervisory role.
“The [program brings] fresh perspectives to help businesses approach work in new ways,” said Bruno.
Teenagers who participate in the program can take on a variety of assignments, including office support, library help, writing, scheduling, athletic support, or maintenance help. From July 11 to August 19, participating departments pay less than $2,500 for full-time help, and the hours and dates may be adjusted to fit the individual needs of a department. The program also fully supports Harvard staff members submit job postings, review student resumes, and interview candidates, as well as advising them on managing high school students.
“The Summer Youth Employment Program allows Harvard University managers to connect with amazing students who truly represent the future of the workforce. These opportunities help students develop invaluable skill sets, gain firsthand experience in the workplace, and set them up for success in the future. It’s an immensely valuable program for Harvard that will grow our relationship with these communities in the years to come,” said Michelle Gordon-Seemore, director of recruitment at Harvard.
Many of the student employees said the experience gave them a new appreciation of their own abilities. Vanessa Bellony, a past participant, called SYEP “a great way for me to expand my work experience. It has allowed me to gain more knowledge and skills — both professionally and personally. I’ve been able to attend helpful educational workshops that will help guide me through many life choices … I am grateful for my time spent at Harvard and know that the skills I learned … will only help me when I go out and conquer the world!”
Another former participant, Nabila Djellakh, said SYEP made her better prepared for what she knows is down the road. “I learned about working under pressure while remaining calm and professional. I know that these are the types of skills that will help me succeed in the future.”
SYEP urges all Harvard departments to consider hiring a local teen this summer. Employing teens from Boston and Cambridge through SYEP helps build Harvard’s reputation as both an “employer of choice” and a good neighbor.
“Boston is a national leader in private sector summer youth employment and Harvard is a longstanding partner working with the Boston Private Industry Council to deliver exceptional programming. This year is shaping up to be our biggest summer jobs campaign to date. We hope that our previous partners and new departments across the University can participate again this year,” said Bruno.