By Bill Stanczykiewicz
For The Herald Bulletin
Summer job opportunities could be increasing for teenagers, but much more than money is at stake for teens hoping to work this summer.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.4 million teens between the ages of 16-19 landed summer jobs last year, a 46 percent increase from the depths of the recession in 2010. John Challenger, who leads a national workforce consulting firm, expects the upward trend to continue in the summer of 2013 — perhaps matching the pre-recession total of 1.7 million summer jobs for teenagers.
Challenger cites a rising number of “help wanted” signs in sectors such as retail, restaurants, sporting goods, leisure and hospitality, shopping malls, amusement parks, day camps and landscaping.
Ball State economist Mike Hicks agreed, “In fact, this could be a big year for hiring lifeguards and jobs similar to that.” Hicks, however, cautioned that the increase in traditional part-time summer jobs will not be matched by an abundance of full-time summer employment, and the full-time summer jobs that do exist likely will be filled by adults who currently are unemployed or underemployed.
Teenagers who are employed this summer undoubtedly will look forward to each paycheck, but working a summer job also offers life-changing benefits beyond money. Holding a job teaches teenagers important life and work skills including punctuality, how to dress appropriately, how to take direction from a supervisor, how to work well with colleagues, and how to provide quality customer service.
A research summary conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation concluded, “A continuum of work experiences from the teen years and on … including summer and part-time jobs … builds skills, knowledge and confidence. These encompass not just workplace and financial skills but the broader ‘soft skills’ of working in teams, taking initiative, focusing on and solving problems and learning how to contribute.”
Failing to develop those work and life skills can have lifelong consequences. “Work itself is the strongest and most effective (workforce development) ‘program,’” the Casey report continued. “Early job experience increases the likelihood of more work in the future.”
Conversely, “Studies show that youth who miss out on an early work experience are more likely to endure unemployment and less likely to achieve higher levels of career attainment later.”
While working teenagers are learning while they are earning, Hicks noted that Indiana’s entire statewide economy is rewarded, and not only because teens are likely to quickly spend their income.
“In Indiana there is a skills gap,” Hicks explained. “Employers over and over talk about the soft skills gap and the lack of experience, and these are factors that can provide a wage premium in the labor market. Those soft skills are easier to teach to young people and are a huge benefit that teens gain from summer employment.”
Hicks emphasized, “Summer employment is a largely beneficial experience for teens to become enriched with those work skills and life skills. Those lifetime benefits swamp whatever money teens are making, and the lack of those soft skills has a long-term, negative impact on the state’s economy.”
While the number of traditional, part-time summer jobs is expanding, Challenger warned that the labor market for teens remains highly competitive. “It is critical that teenagers not wait until the school year ends to start their job search,” Challenger advised. He recommended teenagers visit potential employers instead of relying solely on Internet job postings, network through parents, friends and other community members, and pursue self-made jobs in lawn mowing, babysitting and pet care.
“Many mom-and-pop stores do not advertise job openings on the Internet,” Challenger said. “Nor do most families looking for babysitters, lawnmowers or housecleaners. Some of the best opportunities for summer work may be for the odd-jobs entrepreneur.”
Many adults remember the summer jobs they worked as teenagers. The money they earned is long gone, but the life and work skills that first were developed in that grocery store or on that lifeguard chair, behind a lawnmower or in front of day campers, likely remain to this day.
Hoosier teens can receive those same benefits. The income earned from a summer job likely will be spent quickly, but the skills learned and experience gained can be invested for a lifetime.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, former Anderson radio sports broadcaster, is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.