Setting Teens Up for Success

By Amanda N. Wegner

It used to be a rite of passage for teens to work part-time, whether that was bussing tables, working the checkout lane at a grocery store or any number of other jobs. While teen employment has dropped off through the years, regardless of time of year, having a part-time job offers innumerable benefits for this age group.

“The benefits of hiring teens for part-time work is that it’s a lifelong teaching tool in task and time management. They still get to have a life to hang out with friends, but they also get a sense of responsibility and belonging,” says Gertrude Suhajda, who hires many teens in her role as aquatics director for the Geneva Lakes Family YMCA.

What has kept teens out of the job market, and why should teens (and their parents) consider part-time employment? Here, two local professionals share their insight.

WHAT KEEPS TEENS FROM WORKING?

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1979, about 58% of teens ages 16-19 were in the labor force, but by 2000, only 52% were. And by 2011, after the Great Recession, that percentage had dropped even further: Only about one-third of teens were in the labor force.

Suhajda has experienced this herself and has found it difficult to recruit teens for a few reasons, with sports being the biggest. “After-school sports take up all their time. Practice is every day after school, games or meets are usually on weekends, so it limits the amount of time they can work. Sometimes they can only work one shift a week or weekends, and sometimes they can’t work at all for the session of that sport. I can lose staff up to two months at a time until the next sporting session starts.”

David Booth, a life studies teacher at Lake Geneva Middle School, teaches financial literacy and the state-mandated academic and career planning curriculum. Through this program, students complete career inventories and research potential future careers. They also practice basic skills, such as how to complete job applications and interviewing skills. Like Suhajda, Booth has also found sports to be a barrier. “Sports has taken off, and there is such a commitment to them, and the commitment in a given sport is a lot higher than it used to be due to club sports, travel sports and just after-school sports,” says Booth. After-school clubs, he adds, can also make it difficult for youth to pursue employment.

For older students, academic workload is another reason, at least during the school year. Today, high school students preparing for college are taking tougher and more advanced courses.

For younger teens, not knowing what’s available is also a problem, notes Booth. “For a lot of my eighth graders, they do want to work, they want to make money, but they don’t necessarily know where to go,” says Booth. “That’s one of the barriers for them, not knowing who exactly will hire them and how the process works.”

BENEFITS TEENS EXPERIENCE

Part-time employment, says Booth, gives teens the opportunity to experience what good effort and a good work ethic looks like. “When you have a job, you understand you have responsibilities and deadlines,” says Booth. “You learn that communication is huge; you learn that communication actually takes place face- to-face and not just by social media and devices. You see what it takes to be a good citizen, a good worker, to go into the workforce and be productive. The more we can give kids those experiences, the better.” As someone who hires teens and as a mom

of a working teen, Suhajda agrees, adding that employment offers teens a sense of purpose and camaraderie, and it teaches them work ethic and job responsibilities. It is also the beginning point for many “first” teachable moments. “There are a lot of firsts for a teen,” she says. “It helps them learn how to fill out applications, how to get references (most of them don’t have professional references yet, so they are putting parents or friends as references), how to interview, how to fill out a timesheet, working as a team and hopefully some leadership skills. They are going to learn about tasks they like and some they don’t, but that it all needs to get done. It teaches them how to interact with their peers, boss and upper management. It’s setting them up for future successes or failures.”

FOSTERING TEEN SUCCESS IN THE WORKFORCE

For teens to be successful in the workforce, a good attitude is key, according to Suhajda. “If the teen goes into a job believing that this is a steppingstone, an adventure, a learning tool to get them to the next level of success, then it will be a much more positive, successful and fun experience.”

When seeking out employment opportunities, Booth advises teens — and their parents — to consider positions aligned with their skills or interests. “Encourage them to look at what they are interested in doing. For instance, swimmers are likely interested in lifeguarding,” says Booth. “Getting them pointed in the right direction, to something they would enjoy or a field they are interested in, helps them stay in longer and work harder.”

Parents, says Booth, can help their teens, particularly younger teens, pursue part- time employment by assisting them in the process, such as helping them complete applications or taking them to get a work permit.

Parents also have to make their teen responsible for their own job: “For the most part, parents understand that a part- time job is their child’s responsibility and a learning tool to help them be contributing members of society,” says Suhajda.

Employers can help teens be successful in the workplace by allowing them to fail. “I think our society doesn’t allow them to fail, so then it takes them longer to learn how to correct their actions,” says Suhajda. “I think teens are so tired of being treated like children that they thrive in an environment that gives them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Don’t micromanage them; give them a job or task, explain how to do it and then allow them to do it, but be available and have patience. Teenagers have learned how to think outside the box, so they may see a different way of doing something. Be open to their suggestions; don’t just shut them down because they are young. If it’s a suggestion that doesn’t work, explain why as a learning tool.”

If you employ teens, empower them, says Suhajda. “They are thirsty for responsibility, connections and positive reinforcement. I’ve seen several of my staff that I hired as teens complete college and as they’re getting ready to move on to a job in their new field, they’ve kept one foot in our door, because I’ve created a positive learning atmosphere in our workplace, which gives me a feeling of success. A teen’s job is a revolving door; they want to try several things to find what they like, but if you keep the atmosphere positive and give them a chance to learn and build up their experience, then you are raising leaders for our future.”

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