Opinion Columns & Blogs

Keith Lawing: Teen jobs should be priority

Remember your first job? That first job is a traditional rite of passage, not only producing fond memories but laying the building blocks for future work habits and career interest.

Despite the improving economy, too many teens will not find their first job this summer. The impact is not only felt by the young person who wants to work and has no opportunity. The community at large also loses the benefits that come from having youths experience what it means to get a job and earn a paycheck.

The Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas is partnering with community organizations and employers to expand part-time and temporary jobs for youths. This is a winning strategy to help grow the regional economy, leading to a stronger pool of skilled workers and increased graduation rates, both at high school and beyond.

Employers are the key to expanding youth work experience opportunities. We need employers willing to generate or create part-time opportunities for young people seeking work. Doing so will have a noticeable long-term impact on the regional economy.

Not every employer is in a position to hire a young person. But for businesses that can, there are wage subsidies and other resources available through the Workforce Alliance to make the work experience simple for the employer and meaningful to the young person.

One of the reasons we need to develop work experiences for youths is that teen employment rates have declined from 45 percent in 1999 to 26 percent in 2012. Here in Kansas, the 2012 unemployment rate among 16- to 19-year-olds was more than 21 percent, nearly four times higher than the 5.6 percent state average. In many instances, young people are being replaced by older workers in what have been considered teen occupations such as retail and food service.

The result of these factors is fewer jobs for a growing pool of young workers. While this may seem to be an issue of limited community interest, several research projects document long-term benefits for youths who participate in structured work experience opportunities.

A study of individuals six to nine years after graduation found the students who worked 20 hours per week their senior year earned 22 percent more than those who did not work. These people were employed at higher-level occupations, had health insurance and contributed to a retirement fund. Also, students identified with lower academic potential in high school had a much better chance of completing college after participating in an organized work experience project.

Let’s come together this summer and create many memories of that first job for some of our community’s future leaders. For more information on the youth work experience opportunities, visit www.workforce-ks.com.