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?


Work? What’s That?