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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Work? What’s That?

The report just came in from this summer. Teen unemployment is up. Hmmm.  That’s probably not a shocker to you.

Between the economic downturn, the fact that older adults are taking the jobs teens used to grab and the new expectations parents have of teens and young adults, it is no surprise that young people represent the highest demographic of unemployed people in the U.S. The truth is, teenage unemployment has been on the rise since 2000. Just 29.6% of teens worked this summer, tying last year’s all-time low. In 2000, more than half of teens worked.

The sad news is—when young people don’t experience real “work,” they are less ready for careers after they graduate. “Soft skills” such as how to deal with customers and managers are critical to build in teenagers, says Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute. Further, a 1995 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that high school seniors who worked more than 20 hours a week can expect to make 21% more in their annual salary six to nine years later.

I am working on a new book documenting how engaging in meaningful work is one of the most effective ways to help kids mature authentically. As cool as they are, video games, surfing the web or even schoolwork cannot accomplish the real world experience that a significant job does. There is something about showing up on time, laboring with one’s mind and hands and serving people in the process that does something to mature a human being. I believe adults—whether they are parents, teachers, coaches, or youth workers—need to get on board with the work push.

When teens or young adults work, it accomplishes the following:

1.  Reveals strengths and weaknesses
2.  Builds disciplines like punctuality and work ethic
3.  Uncovers individual passions
4.  Nurtures submission to authority
5.  Cultivates stewardship as the worker values the paycheck for their hours.

May I encourage you to consider helping your students find places to work?



  1. Spencer - JobSighting on September 15, 2011 at 10:28 am

    CNBC published an article last week that looked at the troubling long-term and societal impacts of high teen unemployment which you may find interesting –  

    Just as long term unemployment causes significant degradation of people’s morale and skill sets, teen unemployment is doing the same thing to those who have yet to wholeheartedly enter the workforce.  Couple this with a growing entitlement culture that expects “someone else” to pick up the pieces, and we wind up sending a horrible message to young people that diminishes the importance of self responsibility.

    What is often overlooked though are the opportunities that exist.  At the end of July, there were 3.2 Million job openings in the country (, many of which are bound to capture a particular teen’s interests and schedule.  That’s not to mention internship opportunities or local volunteer positions which may not offer much in the way of a paycheck, but build responsibility and teach skills that are necessary in any career.  Another option for particularly creative, independent, or business-minded teens is also available – entrepreneurship.  There are plenty of avenues to pursue, even if we don’t always think of them.

    By offering something as simple as encouragement and information, we can all help teens as they continue their education, enter the workforce, and begin their life’s journey.

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    • Tim Elmore on September 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Spencer!

  2. choann on September 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Hi Dr. Tim, where would you place household chores in regards to work? I had a mother come up to me and remark that sometimes she doesn’t feel right to ask her kids to get a job or do chores because their schedules are packed with extracurricular activities. How would you answer that mother’s concern?

    • Tim Elmore on September 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Great question. There is definitely a bigger picture to remind parents of. If kids are too busy with extracurricular activities to even allow time for household chores, I wonder if there are too many activities scheduled. I’ve noticed this tendency more and more as parents try to involve students in multiple sports, clubs, etc. I understand that parents & students want to build an impressive list for college admissions but it is usually more valuable for students to pick one or two activities to really focus on. Reminding parents of the importance of preparing students for life beyond high school may help create a more balanced approach.

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Work? What’s That?