My first job fell into my lap when I took over my older brother’s yard mowing business when he graduated to a better paying summer job. Mowing yards provided me with my first taste of working for someone other than my parents. I had to learn to satisfy my customers and to price my service correctly. At $3.00 per yard, my customers got good value for their money even as far back as 1963. However, I learned the importance of fair pricing when my lawn mower broke down and the repair cost $30.00. When I calculated that the cost of the repair would require that I mow 10 yards, I realized that my prices were too low.
The next summer, I gave up mowing yards in favor of working in a gasoline station. There was something alluring about the smell of grease and gas, combined with country music blaring from the station radio and locals hanging out at the gas station. I really felt that I was growing up even though I needed a large coke bottle box to stand on in order to clean the customers’ windows.
My final job of adolescence was also due to my older brother when he passed down his job working highway construction during the summers. The minimum wage job paid $1.75 an hour, but that was enough to cover the first year tuition, fees, dorm and books for college. I began to grow up that summer as the job took me away from home to the hot Texas panhandle during the week. Five guys pooled our resources to live in motel rooms along the way. That was a rough and tumble couple of summers that brought me together with a mixture of people that I was completely unfamiliar with – the working poor.
The overall theme of how I got my jobs was one of networking through my older brother. Employment research verifies the role of networking in opening doors. Those early jobs taught me basic “soft” work skills such as getting to work on time, working well with co-workers, putting in a day’s work, doing as the boss wants, and doing it all over again the next day and next week. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my co-workers. We laughed a lot, told a lot of jokes and talked a lot about football and baseball. Oh yes, I was tested to the limit and learned to hold my ground and not be afraid of the older and tougher guys.
Summer employment has given millions of teens their first job, providing daily structure and a much-needed paycheck. But, in the middle 2000s, something changed with the labor market. It suddenly got very tight due to the Great Recession. The bottom fell out of the teen labor market and those who were able to get jobs were older and more experienced.
Large numbers of young people began missing out of getting their first job and forming work habits and important soft work skills. Digging deeper, the less advantaged youth such as high school dropouts, current and former foster youth and other at-risk populations faced even more extreme job related problems. They could do little or no networking since many didn’t know anyone who was employed and they didn’t have mentors in responsible positions.
Overall, youth unemployment rates have increased dramatically over the past decade as the economy has faltered and the youth population has grown. Summer jobs are a perfect way for young people to keep busy, make new friends, earn money and learn new skills. In the absence of summer employment, they revert to sleeping in, playing video games and hanging out with other unemployed and unoccupied youth. Some get into trouble.
Community Youth Services offers two important federal job training programs for low income and disadvantaged youth, both funded under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. These programs offer young people valuable opportunities and hope for their future, but much more is needed. One of the programs is YouthBuild, a collaborative venture with New Market Vocational Skills Center to train youth in the construction trades while they earn their high school diplomas.
As summer approaches, I urge employers to reflect on how and where they got their first job and to offer the same opportunity to our community’s teenagers. CYS has a ready pool of youth who are eager to get their first summer job and the WorkSource Center in Tumwater has a listing of young people searching for work.
Let’s join together in Just Hiring One Teenager this summer.