It’s a right of passage. Your first summer job as a teen. What was it for you? McDonald’s? Lifeguard at the local pool? In 1979—you know, back in “the day”—most American teenagers were employed (60%). These days, only 35% of teens have jobs. By 2024, only about one in four teens will actively seek work.
What happened? The Brookings Institute found that while the decline in the teen labor force is caused by several difficult-to-pinpoint factors, the most prevalent is that more teens are enrolled in summer classes or year-round school than ever before. Kids these days are just too “busy” with school to work.
One study found that, by 2014, many high schoolers were averaging more than three hours of homework a night. And while the pandemic has affected college admission in ways we have yet to grasp, the requirements and competition for acceptance have generally increased year-over-year. Extracurricular activities and volunteer work, advanced classes often requiring summer classes and extended classroom time and homework, and high test scores are requirements for many colleges (leaving little time for a part-time job). Even applying to college has become more time-consuming. The percentage of students applying to seven or more colleges has tripled since 1995.
It’s a mixed bag of news for employers. On the one hand, “increased attention to academics may in fact be a better outcome for society than increased youth employment,” the Brookings Institute states (which means kids aren’t lazy—they’re using the time to pick up soft and hard skills that will make them better employees later in life). But that doesn’t negate the fact that “the shift in teenage participation that we document is large and indeed large enough to depress the aggregate labor force participation rate.”
While institutions continue to study the trend, what’s an employer to do?
“You may need to restructure the jobs you’ve typically left open for teens,” says The HT Group’s Practice Director – Staffing Group Stephanie Grubbs.
Some actions to consider:
- Proactively recruit disadvantaged students. “Teens of color and those from low-income families stand to benefit most from early work experience, some researchers say, yet they’re the least likely to land a summer job,” states Education Next. Consider reaching out to the schools and community centers in your neighborhood to determine how your job opportunities can reach the kids who need them most.
- Make it worth their time. Remember that teens these days face immense pressure, particularly if they want to get into a top college. It may be beneficial to seek a college admissions specialist’s opinion about reframing your teen jobs so that they look more impressive on admissions applications. Take a look at these tips from Austin-based College Matchpoint, which specifically covers the University of Texas at Austin admissions. Perhaps the job could be reconfigured as an internship, or the job duties could more directly align with passions, skills, and experiences colleges want to see represented in their applicants.
- Consider attracting different workers. Perhaps the seasonal teen jobs you’re having trouble filling shouldn’t be seasonal teen jobs. Maybe they could be turned into apprenticeships or temporary or temp-to-hire adult positions instead. Labor and safety laws make it hard to sustain teen jobs when certain skilled labor and risks are involved (did you know that every 9 minutes, a teen is injured seriously enough on the job to go to a hospital emergency room?). As a bonus, restructuring these jobs can help attract workers interested in being trained into a long-term career with your organization.
“Employing teens is admirable but, with fewer teens looking for jobs these days, you may find that reframing your efforts to either give more value back to the teens you employ or to pivot completely and consider job candidates of any age can be rewarding, too,” Grubbs adds. For ideas on expanding your candidate pool for seasonal employment opportunities, contact us.
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