Recently, a report by the Brookings Institute came out about the dismal labor market for teens (and, for that matter, young adults). Particularly for high-school age teens, job opportunities are few and far between. In fact, employment rates dropped almost 50 percent for 16-19 year olds between 2000 and 2011.
Of course, we know the job market itself was shaken up by the recent recession. Also, the report points out that a small portion of the drop in employment is due to a rise in school enrollment, which is good news!
The worst-affected teens are those who have dropped out of high school and need to work full-time. Because higher levels of education increase employment opportunities, they are the least likely to find a job. However, many teens who are in school also desire or need to work part-time, for reasons ranging from contributing to family finances to paying for a trip to Europe over the summer.
Here are some ideas for helping a teen who can’t find a job:
- Help them set reasonable expectations. Jobs available for those with less than a high school education are unlikely to be particularly exciting or glamorous. Start by talking about their dream job, but then discuss reasonable goals for employment. If they’re not satisfied with the type of job they can get at this time in their life, it’s a great opportunity to stress the importance of staying in school, returning to school and seeking higher education or specialized job training after graduation.
- Help them with their job search. Does your teen know how to fill out a job application? Do they know how to dress for a job interview, and how to answer some of the basic questions? This isn’t intuitive and many teens need help on the basics of how to seek and interview for a job.
- Try focusing on summer jobs and start early. Teens unable to find part-time work during the year may be able to line up a summer job, especially if they start working on it by spring. From pools to camps to babysitting, certain areas need more workers over the summer, and are happy to hire teens for short-term positions.
- Encourage them to get creative. If your teen can’t find work, help them look at skills they can offer. They don’t need abilities that are particularly fancy – can they walk a dog, mow a lawn, or paint a wall? Encourage them to market themselves if they can’t find an official position. What adults can they talk to? Where can they hang flyers? What friends can they join forces with?
- Help them be safe. If your teen wants to go out on their own, make sure they’re not, for example, answering online ads by going to somebody’s house in the middle of the night. If there’s a meeting with a potential employer, make sure it’s in a place of business or a public place. If it’s in someone’s home, drive them there and wait outside. Debrief them afterwards to make sure the job opportunity is appropriate and safe.
- Volunteering can be a good alternative in the short-term. Volunteering, by definition, does not pay. However, it’s a great way to build marketable skills and connect with an agency. A teen who volunteers with children will have a better resume when looking for a child care job, just like a teen who volunteers with animals might fare better in dog walking or pet store jobs. If they don’t need work urgently, your teen might consider getting an edge on competitors by gaining some valuable skills.
- Use the job search to teach some life lessons. Hopefully, even if they can’t find work, your teen will be fed, clothed and housed. For many adults (and some teens), this isn’t the case. Look at the wave of unemployment that has swept our nation, and the poverty and homelessness faced by those who cannot find work. Ask your teen their thoughts on how the nation should address the problem. Talk about what your teen can do now and in the short-term future to try and ensure that they will find employment after graduation from high school or college.
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