Article  |  Prevention

Evaluation of youth summer job program suggests targeting at-risk youth

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Youth living in urban and disadvantaged neighborhoods are often limited to jobs with low wages, benefits, and career growth.1 In addition, they may lack positive adult role models and more likely be involved in the criminal justice system.2 Employers find many youth unprepared for the workplace in the areas of communication, professionalism, critical thinking, and problem-solving.3 Summer employment programs can offer skills and fill unstructured time, while not interrupting homework or extracurricular programs.4 Effective youth employment programs feature mentors who provide youth with time, attention, and a commitment to their success.5 Youth employment has been shown to increase school performance and future earnings, as well as decrease teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, and arrest rates.6

Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority researchers conducted an evaluation of the Community Violence Prevention Program’s Youth Employment Program. The program, which ended in August 2014, sought to increase job readiness skills, build relationships with a caring adult, improve attitudes toward employment and violence, increase self-esteem and conflict resolution skills, and offer community service and engagement. The program provided job readiness training, mentoring, and summer employment to about 1,800 young people ages 16 to 24 years in 23 Chicago-area communities.

Key findings

Authority researchers analyzed program participant, staff, and employer surveys, as well as administrative data, for information on training and program operations.

Change in youth attitudes, police contact

Authority researchers measured improvement in youth attitudes before and after the program in five areas: 1) attitudes toward employment, 2) attitudes towards violence, 3) conflict resolution, 4) self-esteem, and 5) contact with police.

Authority researchers administered pre- and post-tests to youth participants to measure changes on average scores on a scale of one to five. The analysis of pre- and post-test scores of 606 participants showed on average youth participants scored high (or positively) across all measures both before and after the program. While scoring high, the post-tests showed very small increases in attitudes toward employment and contact with police. One measure showed no change—self-esteem, and two measures showed very small decreases—attitudes toward violence and conflict resolution (see Figure).

Youth participants

Program data showed 3,322 youth applied to the program and 1,663 were accepted. Of those accepted, 203 did not complete the program. Participants were mostly between the ages of 17 and 19 years old and a majority had previous employment experience and no prior arrest history. Most participants expected to enter high school or college in fall 2014. According to a survey at the end of the program, most youth participants rated aspects of the program as good or excellent including job readiness training, job tasks, job supervision, mentoring, and the program overall.

The employment component

Many employers rated aspects of the program as high or very high including the success of the program, communication with staff, matching of youth to jobs, and satisfaction with youths’ preparation. A majority of employers said they would hire the youth they worked with if they had a job opening.

The most common job assignments were teaching or supervising children, janitorial work, and community outreach. Most youth participants reported their job was a good match for their skills and interests. Sixty-two percent of youth participants indicated they would use what they learned in the program to obtain another job.

Staff feedback

Staff, coordinators and managers, thought they were prepared for their role as job readiness trainers and their role as mentors to youth. Eighty-three percent of staff said youth were prepared for their jobs. Almost all of staff (managers and coordinators) indicated that the program could be improved with additional resources, with almost half suggesting increasing the duration of the program.

The mentoring component

Administrative data from 20 communities showed 1,451 youth were assigned a mentor and mentors spent a total of 6,488 hours with the youth.

Almost all youth participants regarded their mentors positively, agreeing or strongly agreeing that their mentors challenged them to succeed. Ninety-one percent of youth said their mentors helped them see a different way to solve problems.

Almost all mentors were satisfied with their experiences as a mentor. A majority of mentors responded that they made a difference in their mentees’ lives.

Training feedback

Most youth participants agreed or strongly agreed that the job readiness training was well designed, the trainers were knowledgeable, and that they gained a better sense of what it takes to get and keep a job. Program staff, managers, and coordinators agreed that their training as mentors and job readiness trainers was well designed and that their trainers were knowledgeable.

Implications for policy and practice

Program goals included improved youth participant attitudes toward employment and violence and increased self-esteem and conflict resolution skills, but by serving less at-risk youth who already had strong skills and attitudes, there was little improvement to be made. Youth employment programs should consider expanding their services to more young people who are at-risk for delinquency, poor school performance, and unemployment. At-risk youth living in low-income communities may have greater need for such programs due to educational deficiencies and lack of employment opportunities, as well as increased possibility of exposure to violence. Government resources for these programs are limited and by targeting those at greater risk for unemployment and need for skill-building opportunities, they can make the biggest impact.

Employment components should offer more interactive trainings, including role playing, as well as job matching to career interests to the extent possible.

Mentoring components should also focus on conflict resolution skills, encouraging positive attitudes towards employment, and developing youths’ self-esteem.


  1. Demos and Young Invincibles. (2011). The state of young America: Economic barriers to the American dream. New York, NY: Author.
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  3. Casner-Lotto, J., Barrington, L., & Wright, M. (2006). Are they really ready to work? Washington, D.C.: Corporate Voices for Working Families.
  4. Carter, E. W., Trainor, A. A., Ditchman, N., & Owens, L. (2011). A pilot study connecting youth with emotional or behavioral difficulties to summer work experiences. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 34(2), 95-106.
  5. Partee, G. L. (2003). Preparing Youth for employment: Principles and characteristics of five leading United States youth development programs, Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.
  6. Aos, S., Miller, M. & Drake, E. (2006). Evidence-based adult corrections programs: What works and what does not. Report No. #06-01-1201. Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Retrieved from http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/pub.asp?docid=06-01-1201.; Bernburg, J.G., & Krohn, M.D. (2003). Labeling, life chances, and adult crime: The direct and indirect effects of official intervention in adolescence on crime in early adulthood. Criminology, 41: 1287-1318.; Heller, S. B. (2014). Summer jobs reduce violence among disadvantaged youth. Science, 346(6214), 1219-1223.

Jessica Reichert

Jessica Reichert manages ICJIA’s Center for Justice Research and Evaluation. Her research focus includes violence prevention, corrections and reentry, women inmates, and human trafficking. Her work received the Justice Research and Statistics Association’s Phillip Hoke award in 2011 for outstanding effort in applying empirical analysis to criminal justice policymaking. She has conducted numerous national and state presentations on criminal and juvenile justice issues. Prior to joining ICJIA, Jessica worked at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General and in 2005 received the Distinguished Service Award for her work on behalf of citizens of Illinois. She earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bradley University and master’s degree in criminal justice from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Jessica is also a part-time Adjunct Instructor at Loyola University Chicago.

Evaluation of the 2014 Community Violence Prevention Program's Youth Employment Program