The experience of finding that first job — even if it’s a short-term, part-time summer job — can be daunting. Teenagers often find themselves in a strange world. They are expected to figure out what they have to offer, fill out a job application, and then wait for someone to say the magic phrase, “You’re hired.”
It is one of life’s most profound moments for a teen. The feel like they have jumped in maturity because they have a job.
Studies show that kids who land summer jobs often become better students and have greater success finding a job when they complete their formal education.
But this summer isn’t shaping up well for youth ages 16 to 19 looking for that first job. Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies reports that a few as 25 percent of youths in that age range will find summer employment this year. That figure was 45 percent in 2000, but has been in a steady slide each year since then.
Today’s troublesome economy – bogged down in California by a 12 percent unemployment rate — has left few jobs for teens. And the length of the recession has caused some older workers to take positions today that might have gone to youthful summer replacements in years past.
Knowing how important these first work situations can be, we owe it to teenagers to find a way to expose them to the workplace. More companies should think about internship positions that give teens an opportunity to sit side-by-side with workers and do some of the same job tasks.
Interns are sometimes paid. But if companies can find projects that demonstrate real-life work situations, even in unpaid internships, a win-win situation can be created.
Many teens will likely turn-up their noses at unpaid internships, rejecting them almost immediately. The smarter teens will understand the value of landing that first work experience and will be eager to have them.
Most businesses could probably find projects they want to do, but never seem to have the time or resources to use their workers on them. Interns could fill that role, helping companies produce those projects or assume some of the duties or other workers that would allow those employees to handle the work overflow.
All it takes is for a company to have the initiative to figure identify ways interns can play positive roles for them and then take the time to do some minor training.
Government can also play a role. And, there is precedence for this. As part of his New Deal in the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration to build parks, roadways, public buildings, and to fund arts organizations and to set up food banks. Workers were paid for up to 30 hours per week.
But at a time when government agencies are scrambling to handle their workloads, they probably could use some enthusiastic young workers to help out. Just as business has many minor projects that need attention, state and local government agencies could use a supplemental labor supply.
Of course, this work would be short-term, and there wouldn’t be time for much training. But hiring teens in jobs like this fulfills part of the reason first jobs are so important: Teenagers acquire a sense of the responsibility that a job requires and they get to witness others on the job. When they have completed their formal education, they won’t be as mystified about the world of work, and they’ll know more about what to expect. And, that will be good news for any employer.