Parents and counselors to teens: Do something, ANYTHING, this summer! Teens: Easier said than done! It turns out that both are right.
This summer is proving to be a daunting one for teens looking for work. They're facing an already tight job market, and competing with college students struggling to get a job in their field and laid-off adults who are quick to snatch up typically teen summer jobs. And competition is high among teens themselves: Nationally, their unemployment rate is 25 percent.
"If you're in the job market, you're probably struggling no matter who you are," said Oriane Casale of Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). "For teens, it's just a little bit more challenging because they don't have a work history and they often don't have very many marketable skills."
Experts -- and parents -- are quick to say that teens who cannot find a job need to find something productive to do. But it will take persistence.
Landing an internship can be just as competitive as finding a job, even if it's unpaid. Other options: volunteer work, classes, job-shadowing, mission work or starting your own business, even if it's as simple as mowing lawns or watching the neighbors' kids.
Anything, they say, is better than nothing. And it's important for your college and work résumé to be able to list that you did something other than just hang out.
"Any young person who can walk into a college or employer with work experience will be a cut above the rest," said Tammy Dickinson, direct of STEP-UP, a Minneapolis jobs program that connects young people with agencies and companies. "Even if you cannot find a paid job, get out there and volunteer. There are so many organizations that need the help of a young person."
Increases in minimum wage also are being blamed for the loss of teen jobs, making the search for work even more challenging. Dickinson said STEP-UP had 4,000 applicants for 2,000 spots this year. About 1,350 of those young people will land summer jobs.
STEP-UP recently held a mock interview session to help bolster teens' confidence in talking with prospective employers. One participant was Robert Harper, 16, a sophomore at Columbia Heights High School.
"I don't want to be sitting around the house all summer," said Harper, as he and about 400 students waited for their mock interviews at the Minneapolis Convention Center. "I want to earn money for clothes and get money to pay for driver's ed and get a permit."
Across the river in St. Paul, J'Aundra Jackson, a sophomore at Johnson High School, is working through the YWCA's IMPACT employment and training program.
"I applied to Taco Bell, McDonald's and Burger King, but it's hard because everyone needs a job," said Jackson, 16, who hopes to land an office job this summer that will help her toward her goal of having her own dental hygienist business.
More immediately, though, she wants to earn money and, like Harper, pay for driver's ed classes so she can get her permit. "I want to save for that and buy clothes next year and have my own spending money," she said.
Murphy Alexander, 17, a junior at Eden Prairie High School, has worked as a caddie but said that waking up early was tough. So he took matters into his own hands last summer and started selling items on eBay for friends and relatives. Word of mouth helped build the business and he made about $2,500 by taking a commission on what he sells.
With plenty of his friends out job-hunting (the lucky ones found work before the college kids started returning home), he's just starting in on the summer sales season. "I like working out of my house and not having to look for a job," he said.
But there is a bright spot for teens still looking for work. DEED's Minnesota Teen Summer Employment Outlook 2010 reports job growth nationally among food and clothing retailers, both of which tend to hire teens over the summer months.
On the flip side, the report is interspersed with more suggestions for unpaid work this year, such as one subsection: "Can't Find a Job? Consider Volunteering!"
Casale said it was intentional, given the challenges facing teen job-seekers. "It would be wonderful if all youth were able to get a job, but if they can't, then we wanted to give some really useful options."
Whether high schoolers want to go right to work when they graduate or are heading to college, it's an increasingly competitive world.
The University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus had more than 36,000 students apply for a projected freshman class of 5,300 next fall, said Wayne Sigler, director of admissions.
The strongest consideration is given to students with an overall strong academic record, he said, with volunteer and work experience viewed as secondary factors. But Sigler stressed that those secondary factors "may be a tipping point for students who are on the bubble with respect to being admitted."
And while summer work experiences are important for college and job goals, the experts said they also help to build self-esteem and confidence in young people.
J'Aundra, the St. Paul teen, said she has no interest in sitting around all summer. "I have the ability to have my own money and own responsibilities and provide for myself," she said.
Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707