One Summer Chicago Qualitative Study Explores What Makes Youth Summer Jobs Programs Effective

The public looks to summer youth employment programs to provide youth access to needed economic and social capital and to help reduce involvement in crime and violence among young people from resource-poor communities. A 2014 randomized control trial by the University of Chicago Urban Labs found a Chicago summer youth employment program reduced violent crime arrests for program participants and that this impact continued for 16 months after participation. This lasting impact suggests that summer youth employment programs are influencing development and not just providing an alternative to criminal activity.

This qualitative study explores the key components that make up Chicago’s summer jobs program for youth and the processes through which the program helps to shape participants’ development.

What We Did

Researchers completed semistructured interviews with 32 youth, 17 employers, six agency mentors, eight agency contacts, and 12 program and city leaders affiliated with One Summer Chicago (OSC), a program offering summer employment to youth between the ages of 14 and 24. We also completed two focus groups with agency mentors and 36 worksite observations. We selected the sample to provide a range in perspectives that would allow us to: document the initiative as intended and as implemented; illustrate alignment and variation across programs; and highlight how OSC program components and processes impact the participants. The qualitative approach focuses on processes rather than outcomes; therefore, generalizations cannot be made from the self-reported “impacts” shared by respondents. However, the comparative design and purposefully selected sample allow us to generalize about the processes through which OSC is working and provide insights into the program components that influence these processes.

What We Found

OSC provides access to four types of capital (human, social, cultural, and financial) and three types of interactions: (1) exposure to new people, places, and experiences; (2) safe and supportive environments for practicing new ways of being; and (3) help scaffolding the process of making these experiences personally relevant. These interactions provide youth opportunities to integrate the capitals they access, ultimately leading youth to broaden their perspectives and influencing changes in how they see themselves, the field of work and the career paths available to them, and their goals for the future.

What It Means

Summer employment programming for youth can provide a base of experiences to broaden youth’s perspectives. They then have the potential to help young people build on this base through interactions with mentors, employers, and peers who provide exposure to new people and places, as well as opportunities and supports for trying new ways of being, and a focus on meaning-making. We recommend summer youth employment programs provide employers and mentors with tools and training to help them structure feedback, make space for reflection, and make skill development directly relevant to young people’s lives.

Recommended Citation
Lansing, J., Carreon, E., & Schlecht, C. (2018). Using qualitative research to uncover the mechanisms of One Summer Chicago: What makes summer youth employment programs meaningful for youth. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Final OSC Report