The neighborhoods in Buffalo where the most young people are unemployed typically also host the city’s biggest employers.
To connect young people ages 16 to 24 with jobs that could be literally right around the corner, a team of executives from one of the world’s largest technology companies is lending the city its expertise – for free.
Mayor Byron W. Brown on Tuesday welcomed five innovators from IBM, who over the next three weeks will interview employers and agencies that work with young people to come up with a detailed action plan, which will be presented May 23.
“What we want to get at is, what are the unique, specific issues here, so we can come up with a collective recommendation based on our years of experience and our industry knowledge,” said Sunil Murthy, an IBM business unit executive based in Cupertino, Calif.
In an event in Brown’s City Hall office, Murthy told about 50 representatives of agencies that are in some way involved in helping young people find jobs to be honest and direct about the problem during their interviews with the team from IBM.
Four hundred cities worldwide applied for a competitive “Smarter Cities” grant from IBM over the last three years, and Buffalo was one of 100 that won.
IBM is donating $400,000 in services to the city through the program, which is its largest philanthropic effort. Executives from all over the world drop whatever projects they are working on and travel to the winning cities to help them solve problems.
“We’re not bringing a set of packaged IBM products or services,” said John DiMarco, a Buffalo native who oversees Smarter Cities projects in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “We’re not going to hand over a software product for the mayor to use.”
The city chose youth employment as the problem the IBM team would tackle.
Brown said he doesn’t want young people to be left out of the building boom that is going on downtown, from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to new downtown hotels. He said if young Buffalonians have jobs, they will be less likely to move elsewhere.
“When we look to the future of the community, people say our young people are our future,” Brown said. “This is just another attempt out of many, many things that we do to make a meaningful investment in our youth. Unemployment is a concern; youth unemployment is always higher.”
The city said the unemployment rate for young people varies across the city but can be worse in neighborhoods where there are large employers. In the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, a one-mile area in the northeast corner, residents are often surveyed.
“One of the driving things we keep hearing, over and over, is we need to find opportunities for these youth,” said Kenya Hobbs, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood community engagement specialist.
The Buffalo Public Schools have 6,000 high school students enrolled in career and technology training, and while the program has had some success, more opportunities to give students work experience before they graduate is necessary, said program director Kathy Heinle.
“I think this is going to be great, Smarter Cities, to put all the pieces together,” she said. “We’ve got kids that need work experience.”
IBM teams have addressed such things as public safety in Baltimore, service delivery in Guadalajara, Mexico, and transportation in Nice, France.
Visiting Buffalo for the next three weeks are IBM’s chief technologist, Yu Kit Lee,who is based in Malaysia, and executives from Australia and California.