4/6/2012 8:51:00 AM OPINION: Teens feeling economic heat when seeking summer jobs
Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.
While the nation’s job market slowly is warming up, the summer months might not be so hot for teen employment.
The national economy has added 2.2 million jobs over the past 12 months, dropping the country’s unemployment rate from 9 percent down to 8.3 percent. During that same time period, Indiana’s economy has added 40,000 jobs, reducing the state’s unemployment rate to 8.7 percent.
The Indiana Business Research Center estimates that the Hoosier unemployment rate could drop to 8 percent by the end of the year, but “at this rate, it will be years before we return to pre-recession (job) levels.”
That does not bode well for teenagers looking for jobs this summer.
Summer job opportunities for teenagers have cratered. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 49 percent of teens were employed in July of 2011, the lowest percentage of teens in summer jobs since 1948. Along with the recent recession, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the decline in teen summer employment coincides with record enrollment for teens in summer school (46 percent).
“Things were much more robust for teen hiring 12 to 13 years ago,” said Linda Woloshansky, President and chief executive officer of the Center of Workforce Innovations, the regional workforce development agency based in Valparaiso.
“Back then businesses were growing and were anxious to bring teens into the entry-level job market. There were lots of opportunities for teens who wanted to work. Today, we have very difficult times with the highest unemployment rates for teenagers ever.”
Woloshansky said that teens lose more than income due to the lack of summer job opportunities. “Having a job is an important personal development opportunity for a kid,” Woloshansky said. “You don’t learn how to work until you start to work. We can teach work skills in a classroom, but you really don’t start to learn those skills until you actually work.”
Those skills include the so-called “soft skills” related to personal behavior and working well with others.
In a business survey conducted by the Center of Workforce Innovations, employers said they are most in need of workers who have a positive attitude, follow directions, dress appropriately, manage time effectively, listen well and who are honest and dependable.
Without an opportunity to practice and develop these skills by working, Woloshansky said, “young people will have a harder time finding jobs later in life, which will not only harm their earning potential but their self-confidence as well.”
This also could harm America’s competitiveness in the global economy. According to data analysis conducted at Northwestern University, by the year 2020 the United States population will be younger than the populations of two of our main competitors — China and the European Union.
Missing an opportunity to develop young workers now could reduce opportunities for those workers and our nation’s economy later.
More immediately, summer employment can provide teenagers with work experience to list on a résumé and references to list on a job application. Summer employment also can help teenagers start to explore what they might enjoy doing through full-time employment as an adult.
In response to the weak job market for teens, the Center of Workforce Innovations is launching a public relations campaign, encouraging employers to create jobs for teens this summer.
“The job might only be 10 hours per week or might be a project that lasts only a week,” Woloshansky explained. “If that job can exist, we’re asking employers to create it and then take a chance by hiring a young person.”
In the meantime, teenagers need to be proactive and persistent, looking online and in their local communities for summer job opportunities. Teens can inquire at businesses that do not have a “help wanted” sign in the window, asking them to keep an application or résumé on hand in case a job opportunity develops. Young people also can try to create their own job by performing neighborhood tasks such as babysitting, mowing lawns and walking dogs. “Young people need to be creative,” Woloshansky advised. “Having a job will give you a sense of self-confidence, help you learn work skills and put some income in your pocket. “Most importantly, find, take or create a job.”