Hundreds of high school seniors packed the Baltimore War Memorial on Wednesday for a job fair organized to help graduating students transition from classwork to paid work.
About 500 students from 35 city schools were expected to attend the four-hour job fair, which featured representatives from 90 employers and training programs. The event comes two months after thousands of city students filed through the same downtown landmark to finalize applications for the summer jobs program YouthWorks.
The employment outreach to the city's youth came in a week when two teens were killed and the city hit 100 homicides for the year, the second-fastest pace of killings in the city in a decade.
"This is precisely the counterpoint to the situation of kids getting killed on the streets," Gregory Tucker, a spokesman for Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, wrote in an email. "As is the summer YouthWorks program."
Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the city's employment development office, said officials know it's important for students who are about to leave high school to have a plan, whether for work, college or job training. The fair was organized for students who don't expect to go to college after the school year ends in June.
"This is part of making sure they know what their options are," Perkins-Cohen said.
On the War Memorial's main floor, city agencies, businesses, local firms and military recruiters set out stalls with information about entry-level opportunities. Perkins-Cohen said some employers had to be turned away for lack of space.
The Pugh administration has worked to create options for students finishing high school. The mayor launched a plan to make Baltimore City Community College free for graduating seniors — an opportunity she says 500 students have taken up — and has held workshops to help students fill out financial aid forms.
Applications for the YouthWorks program, which connects teenagers to summer jobs, have surged this year. More than 16,000 young people applied to the program this year.
The program served more than 8,000 students over the past two summers. Pugh and other city leaders have asked more businesses to help meet the demand.
Pugh told employers Wednesday that her goal is "that you hire our young people."
"We believe that it's important for us to know where every single young person is who is leaving our high school system," the mayor said.
Perkins-Cohen said tracking the results of the job fair will be difficult, but officials will stay in touch with employers to get a sense of how many people were hired.
Da'Shanay Brown, a 19-year-old senior at Excel Academy, said she was casting her net widely. She had spoken to a cosmetologist and representatives from supermarkets and a casino.
"Hopefully someone's going to hire me," she said.
Jamal Walters, a supervisor at his family's moving company, said he was impressed by the quality of the fair and the students. Walters said he needs employees for the summer, the company's busiest period.
"When I grew up in Baltimore we had job fairs, but nothing like this," he said. "All the students are really interested — they want a job."
Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was one of the officials who attended the event. The police academy doesn't accept recruits until they're 20 years old, but younger people can enroll in the department's cadet program, a kind of extended paid internship.
De Sousa said he attended a similar job fair at the War Memorial 30 years ago and spoke to a recruiter about how to get a job.
In another three decades, he said, "I think there's going to be that young person, male or female, some scholar who's going to tell the same story."