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on Leading the Next Generation


What to Do About Declining Summer Employment for Teens

May is almost over, and kids are out of school for the summer. Most of them will stay busy with sports, vacations, video games or some other technology as they attempt to fend off boredom. Unfortunately, far too few will choose to work. Yep, just as the weather is warming this year, the sun is setting on summer jobs.

According to Forbes writer Amy Rosen, “Overall, summer youth employment has declined over the last decade. Among white youth, the rate has dipped from 70% to 54%. Only 39% and 35% of Hispanic and black young people respectively had summer jobs two summers ago.”

photo credit: illustir via photopin cc

photo credit: illustir via photopin cc

While there may be a tendency to dismiss the trend as insignificant, for those of us who focus on preparing students for the future and youth employment, the drop in summer jobs is a problematic development. According to The Center for Immigration Studies, which executed the 2011 study, “even after adjusting for other factors such as family background, those who work when they are young are more likely to be employed later in life. Those who work as youths also make more money and are employed in higher status occupations.” This is huge.

I have written for years how research also demonstrates that holding a job during their formative years instills the disciplines, the delayed gratification, the value of service, the work ethic and the habits of exchanging talent for remuneration that are helpful in finding or retaining gainful employment later in life. This may include showing up on time, following a supervisor’s directions, completing tasks, dealing courteously with customers and working hard. In other words, having a summer job is a pretty strong indicator of future job success.

Consider this: Youth unemployment is at its highest level since World War II. Only about half of young adults ages 16-24 held jobs in 2011, according to Huffington Post, which may indicate that the future of young people in the workforce looks a bit bleak. We are going to have to be intentional about building the virtues they’ll need — it isn’t happening naturally. It’s possible they’ll graduate from school knowing about how to take a multiple choice test, how to play ultimate Frisbee and how to negotiate a grade with a professor, but they may not know how to get results in a workplace.

Amy Rosen reminds us: “Unfortunately the collective job prospects for lower income young people are even bleaker. According to that same study, the few summer jobs available are taken, increasingly, by white, male teens whose parents earn between $100,000 and $149,000 annually. About 46% of teens in that demographic reported working in the summer.  For black males teens with family incomes below $20,000, the summer job employment rate was just 9%.”

This means the teens and young adults who could most benefit from the income and future job skills offered by summer jobs are the least likely to get them.

So What Can We Do?

  1. If you have any chance to hire a young person (for any job or project), find them and invite them to serve with you. Take initiative and offer work.
  1. Make time to debrief how they’re doing regularly. From the start, tell them you want to do this in order to build valuable skill sets in them.
  1. When they’re ready, share your story and vision for your career. Enable them to see the big picture and begin planning for their own future.
  1. After summer is over, help them create or expand their resume. Reveal that a good resume represents their chance to tell others what they can do.
  1. Offer to become a “mentor consultant” to them. Let them know you’d welcome a phone call once in a while when they need guidance.

Let’s build leaders out of this next generation…beginning with summer jobs.


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  1. Corby Lucas on May 29, 2014 at 6:34 am


    This was very interesting to me. I wonder how much of this is due to parents being able to get their kids to summer jobs or having the financial means to provide a vehicle for them (at least in the high school years)? It makes sense that the income bracket of $100,000-$149,000 has a higher percentage of students with summer jobs due to the possibility that transportation is less of an issue for this income group.

  2. Anne on May 29, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Interesting comment Corby and probably true. However, when the article says, “This means the teens and young adults who could most benefit from the income and future job skills offered by summer jobs are the least likely to get them.” To me, this could also mean that lower income kids are not putting forth the initiative to go get jobs, not that of the upper middle class kids are TAKING all of the jobs.

    • Tim Elmore on May 30, 2014 at 8:18 am

      Great point, Anne.

      Corby – Whatever the reason may be, we as adults must adjust our approach to today’s kids. We need to encourage them to seek and take summer jobs. Kids are creative and will find transportation solutions or find jobs around the neighborhood that do not incur major transportation costs.

  3. Ken Shepherd on May 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    I spend a lot of time mentoring high schoolers and college students on how to get jobs, and many times I feel like I am speaking Greek to most of them. I really believe if they want to work and get a little aggressive, they can work. I can’t tell you how many times I have suggested different jobs and they say NO, because it is not exactly what they want to do, like ANY fast food restaurant!! I had two young men out for breakfast and asked them had they got a job yet, after saying No, I asked them if they had tried at McDonalds, they emphatically replied, “We ain’t working for them!! Luckily one of my sons friend’s that worked his way up through McDonald’s was in the restaurant and told me to remind them that the last two CEO’s for McDonald’s started by flipping burgers. One other reason they do not get jobs is because their job competition is not only from their peers and a huge immigrant work force, there are now ALOT of retirees that want to work, and the immigrants and retirees have great work ethic!! Thanks for all your great work, see you in Atlanta!

  4. Ken Shepherd on May 31, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Please let me share one more example that there are jobs for the kids if they will show some drive. One of my old bosses who ran a 72 hole golf complex with ALOT of employees put up job notices for summer help in two local high schools, the amount of students between the two schools was probably in the neighborhood of 4,000 juniors and seniors. The hourly wage he offered was $9.00/hour when the minimum wage was $7 something, out of those two schools he had 1 response! At my golf course, it was very seldom that young people would come to my shop looking for jobs, instead they would have mom and dad ask for them, I always told them that I would rather talk to their son or daughter, not them, in a nice way of course.

    • Tim Elmore on June 5, 2014 at 7:59 am

      Thank you, Ken, for sharing. Your examples shed light on the differences that this new generation of students presents to adults and society.

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What to Do About Declining Summer Employment for Teens