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Pros and cons of teenage employment


WORLD Radio - Pros and cons of teenage employment

Do high school students benefit from after-school jobs?


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 11th of October, 2022. This is WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you’ve joined us today! Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Young people and jobs.

Teen employment dipped in the early days of the pandemic but has nearly returned to its pre-pandemic level. But do high school students benefit from after-school jobs? Lauren Dunn talks with experts and teens to find out the pros and cons of high school employment.

LAUREN DUNN, REPORTER: DJ Cain filled out a job application for a Chick-fil-a in Wichita, Kansas, early last year, on his 14th birthday.

CAIN: My parents were both managers there. And you know, just them coming home and talking about it. It really just intrigued me and you know, grabbed my interest.

Cain knew that, as a 14-year-old, he could only work limited hours and jobs – no working with pressure fryers, for example. But he wanted to master beginner tasks and be ready for more responsibility as soon as he was old enough. Now 15, Cain is already a team trainer for new employees.

The high school sophomore gave up participating in track and field and baseball in order to work. Child labor laws prevent him from working later than 7 pm on week nights until he turns 16, so his work schedule clashed with team practice. To keep up his schoolwork, he often brings his books to the job.

CAIN: One of the things I like to do is I stay after work when I get off at seven and just do my homework before I go home. And that's one of the things that helps me keep up in school.

Nearly half of all teens ages 16-19 held jobs in 1990. In February 2020, 1 in 3 youth those ages had jobs. Just two months later, only 1 in 5 teens worked as COVID-19 restrictions shuttered many businesses. In August of this year, the numbers squeaked just past pre-pandemic levels to nearly 34 percent.

Chelsea Daniel oversees the Youth Employment Project at the Workforce Centers of South Central Kansas in Wichita. She says that in addition to the obvious benefit of earning money, students can learn a lot on the job.

DANIEL: Those interpersonal skills, those abilities – communicate, and think outside the box to problem solve with other generations – is a great way to do things. Because that's what ties a strong workforce together is the ability to work over generational gaps.

Daniel says early work experience can help a student make more informed decisions on what they want to do after graduation.

She adds that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teen jobs.What is the student interested in? What other extracurricular activities do they want to do? Daniel suggests students look at their course schedule and their extracurricular activities before deciding whether to work—or how much to work.

DANIEL: One of the things about working through high school is that you really have to find that sweet spot of balance that works for you…I don't want somebody to go into work and then work, work, work, go to school, school, school and then be burnt out.

Like DJ Cain, many students find that their schedule can’t accommodate extracurricular activities, school, and a job. During the pandemic, some students began working - and didn’t come back to class.

Sandy Addis is the chairman of the National Dropout Prevention Center.

ADDIS: We may not have lost a lot of ‘em to jobs – we probably did lose some to employment – but students who are at risk and who are disengaged and disenchanted with school anyway, they look for an opportunity to drop…And the pandemic and going virtual gave them a perfect opportunity to disappear.

Jobs don’t have to work against school. Addis points to studies that show career development is a top predictor for students staying in school.

ADDIS: If the hours and the time commitment are school-friendly, and if the educators and the employers connect, and if there's a connection between the content of the work and the task, and the content of the instruction, it's a huge plus.

Addis encourages employers to use their influence in a teen’s life to encourage them to take school seriously.

ADDIS: Coaches have done this for years. You don't attend, you don't pass – you don't play. You know, same thing works for employers: you don't attend, you don't pass – you don't work. You know, and kids will get that message in a hurry.

Matt Tompkins is one of DJ Cain’s supervisors. He estimates that at least 80-85 percent of the franchise location’s employees are high school students.

TOMPKINS: We like to pick kids who are involved in their community or involved in their school. We love to hear that they're in the play, or they're in sports or things like that. So it shows some level of ambition, even at this early age in life.

Teens who are involved in other activities often want to stay involved. That can cause scheduling challenges for employers. Tompkins tries to prepare by hiring more employees than the restaurant technically needs. And sometimes there are teachable moments.

TOMPKINS: If they've got a football game coming up on a Friday night, in two weeks, well, they need to make sure they request off for that. But sometimes they don't do that and they forget – last minute they say oh I need to because somebody picked up my shift for tomorrow night I forgot I have a school event, something like that. And so they're learning you know, some of those components and those skills of for example, being responsible with your life schedule.

Cain wants to try out for sports again once he turns 16 and can expand his available work hours. He stays ready by working out in his free time.

CAIN: I feel like when I'm going to come back these next seasons, I'm going to be so much more of a team player instead of “it's all me” but instead a “we over me” mindset.

Cain plans on continuing his education through college. He’s also considering a career at Chick-fil-a. In the meantime, he’s going to keep putting in time on the job. And learning.

CAIN: Sometimes I can get frustrated with work. Let's face it, we all do. You know, if someone's not up to par with what we want, we just need to humble ourselves. And sometimes, you know, I just let that slide. I'm still young, and I'm still learning. And sometimes I just become less humble and frustrated myself. But I usually take a pause, and humble myself and get back on pace.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lauren Dunn.

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