Detroit jobs initiative prepares youth for success

Jul 4, 2015 by


By Tom Watkins –

Kids need jobs.

Many in the business community complain about public education and the lack of preparedness among students exiting in the educational system. However, the educational system and the products of those systems will only grow and flourish as much as we invest in them.

Henry Ford once said, “Getting ready is the secret of success.” Ford was right and the business community has a responsibility to help our young people get ready for the world of tomorrow.

This involves a solid education, as well as hands-on work experience which are critical to help prepare our children for successful futures.

We commend the vision and commitment that Mayor Mike Duggan has to the young people of the City of Detroit through his Grow Detroit’s Young Talent  Initiative which exceeded its goal and will be employing 5,594 young people this summer.

Designed to match youth with paid summer employment opportunities from various Detroit businesses, based on interest, ability, and accessibility. The program also incorporates work-readiness and financial literacy training. Businesses large and small from around the region are participating in the program in an effort to empower our young people and revitalize Detroit. Thank you!

Mayor Duggan said “talent is equally distributed, but what is not equally distributed is opportunity.” It is the creation of opportunity that is the foundation of the mayor’s GDYT Initiative. With over 17,000 youth applicants – it is time for us as a community to do more.

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority ( is passionate about uplifting and motivating Detroit’s youth. It was this passion that was the driving force behind our Board’s commitment of $600,000 in funding to City Connect that will employ 386 young people in Detroit as part of the GDYT Initiative.

According to Herbert C. Smitherman, M.D., DWMHA Board Chairman, “This is our opportunity to take responsibility and make a difference. A child who is emotionally scarred, physically abused or without a decent education today is walking into our communities and businesses tomorrow. Consider hiring and training a high school student to work this summer in your business. We can meet the challenge to become the change we’d like to see in the world.”

Many of us remember the desire to work, to land that first job. We might even recall the dichotomy in our early job hunts: We couldn’t have the job without experience, and, conversely, couldn’t get the experience without that job. Ah, the thrill of earning our first paycheck!

Research has shown that when young people are purposely engaged in education and employment they are more likely to stay away from alcohol, drugs and violence, thus improving their chances of graduating from high school and perhaps going on to attend college, a trade school or university.

During the most recent economic downturn, many of our young people have been deprived of the opportunity to be employed through no fault of their own. But as the economy picks up steam, if businesses were to make a concerted effort to hire young people, collectively it could make a huge difference for them our city, region, state and nation.

With massive deficits at the local and federal levels, it is unlikely that governments will fill the void to create youth employment opportunities. So who better to engage, train and mentor our young people than small business – the backbone of our community, and indeed our nation?

We applaud those organizations that have joined Mayor Duggan in accepting the GDYT challenge in funding, hiring, training and mentoring tomorrow’s leaders. Hiring a young person not only puts money and experience in the pocket of a future adult, but it also benefits our entire community.

You may also consider hiring a person with a disability. The only group of people with greater difficulty finding employment than teenagers is people of all ages with disabilities. Today we have the power to prepare our future workforce while strengthening our communities and state. Hire a young person or people with disabilities — making an investment in them today is an investment in your company and our collective futures tomorrow.

Through proper training, education, and opportunities, we can help widen the “River of Opportunity” for Detroit youth and set an example for other regions worldwide. Next year, GDYT hopes to employ even more youths in their summer program. Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation cites relevant advice from her first job in light of this ambition: “Give your best and aspire for more – that’s what we plan to do.”


Employers who want to give back to Detroit and hire a youth can call 313-967-5641 or find more information at:


If you know someone with a mental illness, developmental disability or substance use disorder and would like more information about the programs and services at DWMHA, please contact our 24-Hour Crisis Help Line at 800-241-4949 or visit us on the web at


Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority ( He has served the residents of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. Follow Watkins on twitter @tdwatkins88

Source: Detroit jobs initiative prepares youth for success | The Michigan Chronicle

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1 Comment

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    Thomas Langdon

    Tom Watkins writes another spot-on article. We can’t wait for Lansing to bail us out of the public school fiscal mess in which we now find ourselves. We must (and can) rely on small (and larger) businesses to partner with us to help in this area. However, it takes creativity and the willingness to listen.

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