Teens enjoy using their summer months to unwind from the long academic year, but many also expect to spend summer working a summer job, or increasing the hours at their part-time job, to save money, get experience, and have something structured to do. And these are the lucky students who have the luxury of being able to get a “legitimate” job. Many disadvantaged students living in the housing projects or at poverty level will be struggling to avoid street temptations and other fast ways to earn money. This year almost one out of four American teens ages 16 to 19 were unemployed in February. On average, over the last 20 years, teens have held a steady unemployment rate of between 14 and 18 percent. The teen unemployment rate in 2012 has reached 23.2 to 23.8 percent.1
Unlike adult unemployment rates, the biggest worry current teen unemployment rates are causing economists isn’t financial, it’s that teens won’t learn the basic job skills they need to succeed in future careers to provide earnings for themselves and others over the arc of their lives. The responsibility of showing up to work on time, wearing appropriate clothing, getting along with authority figures, discovering what you are and aren’t good at, contributing work of value, and collaborating with peers are skills workers need whether they are flipping burgers at McDonald’s, or are the McDonald’s manager or regional supervisor.
If teens are having a hard time finding a summer job that pays, encourage them to make the most out of their summer by shifting their end-goal. This summer, ask students to set the goal to learn one new skill by the end of the summer. Challenge students to fulfill this goal by:
- Getting an internship at a business, government agency or non-profit.
- Signing up for a service learning activity like cleaning trails or urban parks.
- Volunteering at a community center helping seniors or working with young children.
- Tutoring younger students in an area you enjoy.
- Registering for an enrichment class by the school, community, public library, or private company (and, yes, for the enterprising student, there are scholarships available)
- Creating a summer business (bake sales car washes, online craft store, pet walking, errand running, cooking, cleaning, baby-sitting, teaching middle-aged/elderly people to use technology, etc.)
If students are lucky enough to be employed at a paying job, they can still take the challenge to treat their job as more than a paycheck and focus on improving at least one skill in the many hours spent on the job. Learning to identify and quantify their contributions will help them to keep their own score card — something all adults need to learn if they are serious about contributing personally and professionally throughout their lives.
For the resilient and resourceful students, the high unemployment rate isn’t discouraging — or an excuse — to not have a summer learning experience that enhances exposure to the world of work, or even helps getting into college or landing a job in the future. There are many real-world opportunities to enrich students’ learning during the summer months that can teach teamwork and leadership skills, punctuality, responsibility, strategy, innovation, time management, and provide the practical education which is the life foundation of books, school and technology.
1High Teen Unemployment Could Hurt Future Job Growth,” by Danielle Kurtzleben. 15 March 2012. US News. Accessed on 23 April 2012. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/03/15/high-teen-unemployment-could-hurt-future-job-growth