Mixing a Job into Your Student’s Summer

Today’s students are as busy as ever. Some would argue they’re more busy than ever. The numbers tell us, however, that students are busy with activities (such as clubs, practices, recitals, etc) more than with working at a job. Even the percentages of young adults ages 18-34 who are employed have dropped over the last three decades:

1980 – 69%

1990 – 71%

2000 – 69%

2009-2013 – 65%

And when you adjust for inflation, young adults are getting paid less too, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education. While it doesn’t represent a gigantic drop, it represents enough that caring adults should notice.

According to the Barna Research Group, a mere 36% of students said college prepared them for life. This is sad but true. I’m not sure if their expectations were too high or if their college performance was genuinely too low, but only 42% felt they needed their degree for their job, and even less said their degree was related to their job. Four out of every ten wish they’d chosen a different major.

Why This Matters

A few years ago, we began to see the numbers drop on the summer job market. You may or may not know this, but summer youth employment has dropped in the last decade. Only 54% of white teens work now, alongside 39% of Hispanic teens and 35% of African American teens. While this may not sound like an alarming decline or position, it signals something larger. Those who dismiss this decline in working youth should remember that according to a 2011 study from The Center for Immigration Studies, those who work when they’re young are more likely to be employed later in life (this was found after controlling for factors such as family background, etc). What’s more, the study found that those who work as teens also make more money and are employed in higher-status occupations.


According to journalist Amy Rosen, “This research also shows that holding a job during their formative years instills the habits and values 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.”

What Can Ordinary People Like Us Do About This?

Especially with summer ahead, let me suggest some steps we can take to better prepare our young people for a career and future leadership roles as adults:

  1. Talk about the value of work.

I have said this before: while I am a fan of extra-curricular activities such as sports, theatre, music, etc, there’s something about work that offers a genuine picture of life, not a facsimile. It represents exchanging talent and time for income. The value that surfaces in a young worker is healthy self-esteem and identity, as well as a healthy sense of responsibility with money and time.

  1. Mix in chores around the house.

A hundred years ago, four-year olds were doing age-appropriate chores at home. Today, that’s almost unheard of. I suggest by elementary school, suitable chores should be given to kids in exchange for income. This is not an allowance — it’s income for work. The difference? They are loved unconditionally for being part of the family, and they are paid for doing something valuable around the house. Dave Ramsey calls this a “commission” instead of an “allowance.”

  1. Give them a “taste” of part-time work when they’re old enough.

Even if it’s five to ten hours a week, help them scope out employment opportunities or entrepreneurial possibilities in their community. To be honest, they may just get hooked. I began as a paperboy at twelve years old. While I hated the early morning hours, I loved the revenue I generated. This may squeeze into their sports time, but remind them of the statistics I shared above — that this is giving them a head start.

  1. Don’t merely give them everything they want.

If we give them what they should earn, they will never be incentivized to get a job. Incentives are a big part of life. We learn to delay gratification in light of a benefit coming along later. Giving them all they want is actually a mild form of child abuse. It gives them a false sense of reality and doesn’t prepare them for the adult world.

According to Jennifer Breheny Wallace of The Wall Street Journal, “In a survey of 1,001 U.S. adults released last fall by Braun Research, 82% reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.”

Let’s give our young people the head start they need.


Looking to develop leadership skills in students this summer?

Check out Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



Mixing a Job into Your Student’s Summer