In tough job market, teens should consider volunteering to build skills

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Teens who expected to land a summer job are coming up empty handed.

“The jobs, which often involved the service sector at restaurants, recreational sites and resorts, aren’t there,” said Elaine Johannes, K-State Research and Extension youth development specialist, who cited an April research report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.

It reported that teens’ summer employment rate has dropped from 45 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2010. While the economy, unemployment and shrinking job opportunities for adults factor into lost employment opportunities for youth, Johannes urged parents and teens to work together to create opportunities for teens to grow with – or without – a paycheck.

“The financial loss is real, yet the jobs also provided opportunities for teens to grow in personal responsibility and develop into more capable young adults,” she said.

Options

With that said, Johannes encouraged parents to help their teen explore volunteer opportunities that will allow him or her to build skills that support personal growth and development. Building skills now also should help teens and young adults become more employable once the economy recovers and the job market opens up, she said.

Volunteer opportunities will vary with a teen’s age and the size of the community in which he or she resides, said Johannes, who offered tips for parents in helping teens make a connection.

Early adolescents, ages 11 to 13, are not readily employable, but will typically learn skills around the house, and can benefit from volunteering to mow a lawn or two to learn about lawn and garden care as a basis for a lawn mowing business later on.

Younger teens (or “tweens”) can benefit from volunteering to assist with summer recreation programs for younger children or summer reading programs at the local library. This age group, while too young to be camp counselors, also may benefit from camp opportunities, said Johannes, who encouraged parents and children to look for day and residential camp scholarships that might be a good fit for their teen.

Training

Middle school youth, ages 13 to 15, will be more independent and responsible, and may benefit from volunteering as an apprentice or helper with school or community programs and services. Many in this age group also may benefit from training (such as the 4-H babysitting curriculum) and may find employment opportunities with local expanded summer child care or recreation programs.

This also is the age when teens can pair up and begin building a lawn and garden business that might grow. For example, one teen may have a good mower, and another a knack for sales along with trimming and spiffing up flower beds.

Benefits

Volunteering with summer school programs, the local library, recreational programs or community-based events and meal programs can provide a service, yet also yield opportunities to build skills and grow personally in working with a team, providing a service, and growing in personal responsibility.

High school age youth will typically have greater independence with a driver’s license, access to transportation, and a greater sense of self, as they continue on their way to becoming more capable young adults

Strategy

Upper level high school students will want to continue to survey the job market and are advised to apply for jobs in person. Personal contact with businesses and services that they and their family might rely on will probably have a greater likelihood of resulting in a paying job than will submitting numerous resumes to national online job sites.

Following up on volunteer opportunities is recommended for every age group, said Johannes, who noted that most people know of volunteers who have used what they learned as a volunteer to land a job or build a career.

Examples, she said, include a local Red Cross volunteer who used her volunteer experiences to begin building a career as a health professional, a volunteer tutor who developed an interest in education as a career and a volunteer who produced an online community newsletter later landed a job as an electronic journalist. The goal, Johannes said, is to be engaged at any age and grow through your experiences.

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