PITTSFIELD >> One of the greatest predictors of whether a person can keep a job as an adult is whether they had a job as a teenager.
Summer jobs help teens make the connection to the workplace and help them understand the importance of staying in school and succeeding academically.
For many youngsters, like me, summer jobs were a part of growing up. Whether stirred by boredom, necessity or the desire for a little extra spending money, about half of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 used to work jobs during the summer. Today, less than one-third of them do.
Fewer than 30 percent of the nation's teens have been working in recent months versus 45 percent in 2000 and nearly 50 percent in 1989. Here in the Berkshires, teen employment rates have also declined considerably over the past eight years. Between January and March of this year, only 28 percent of the state's teens were employed, a new historic low for Massachusetts.
There are many reasons to care about rising unemployment for youth. Getting young people into the job market early is essential to building good work habits and professional skills. The value of learning to handle money, getting to work on time, and developing basic customer service skills cannot be overstated in preparing teens for successful career ladders and the ability to eventually support themselves.
National evidence proves that young people who worked over the summer were more likely to remain in high school, had an easier transition after graduation, were less likely to get in trouble with the law, had better performance at school, and were 86 percent more likely to have jobs the following year.
Work opportunities for young people began to dry up at the end of the 1990s, when Congress restructured a federally financed summer program that once provided work experiences for 1,000 youth in Berkshire County each year. The recession made it even harder for the young, who had to compete with more experienced workers who had lost their jobs. Across the nation, about 20 percent of young people who seek summer jobs cannot find them. Let's change that statistic this summer!
Make a difference this summer
Why should employers hire young people? Remember your first job experience? Someone gave you an opportunity to begin your work life and now you have a great opportunity to return the favor by hiring an energetic, motivated young person for your workforce.
Besides benefitting the teen a summer job can be a great experience for businesses and the community. Summer jobs help employers by creating an opportunity to train your future workforce, reducing your recruitment costs, and re-energizing your current workforce. Summer jobs can also help to revitalize the regional economy, reduce crime, and inspire teens to work, thrive and live in Berkshire County.
Given the profound difference that meaningful, career-related summer programs can make in the lives of our young people, please consider providing summer employment opportunities for Berkshire County youth.
Through the region's Jobs4Youth Campaign, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board is encouraging the community to help support and provide summer jobs to young people ages 14-to-21. It's easy to participate. Here's how:
• Sponsor a youth — $1,500 provides a young person with six weeks of subsidized work experience through Youth Works.
• Host/provide summer work experiences for youth in Youth Works.
• Directly hire youth for full and part-time employment opportunities. Visit BCREB.com for the details on how to participate. Before bringing teens into the workforce, however, employers need to make sure they understand child labor laws to know what certain aged young people can and cannot do.
For more information, visit the state Attorney General's office website at www.mass.gov/ago/youthemployment or call 617-727-3465. Employers can also contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hours Division at either www.dol.gov/whd or at 617-624-6700.
Tips to Land a Summer Job
Want a summer job? Start now. Don't wait until a week before school lets out! There is a lot of competition out there, so it is best to start early.
Begin by visiting the BerkshireWorks' Virtual Job Fair at www.BerkshireWorks.org which highlights youth-friendly employers in the region. Also visit www.jobquest.detma.org to view the more than 1,771 job postings in the Berkshires.
Here are a few more tips to help you find employment:
• Network and market yourself: Friends, neighbors, and other parents are going to be your most valuable means of finding gainful employment during the summer. They may have an inside track to an opportunity you otherwise would not have had access to.
Ask your school guidance counselor and teachers for help, and check the community center's bulletin board for job listings.
Utilize social media outlets to help market yourself — especially if you want to be self-employed in fields like child care, or lawn maintenance, etc. You need to let people know who you are, why they should hire you, and when you are available for work.
• Prepare references: You may be asked to provide a few references to a potential employer. Compile a list of names and phone numbers of people who are not related to you that can vouch for you, either personally or professionally. References are usually provided in the form of a letter of recommendation, and you should get them from previous employers, teachers, coaches or anywhere you may have volunteered in the past.
• Dress appropriately for interviews: You want to be taken seriously, so dress appropriately for the job for which you are applying. Be on time — a few minutes early to be safe — and bring with you any information you think an employer may want to see, such as your reference letters and a resume.
• Find specialized job search sites: Check out websites such as BerkshireWorks.org, Monster, Snagajob, and GrooveJob which specialize in jobs for teens and high school students. You can search for jobs by location, interest, age range, and employer, and the sites offer advice on writing cover letters and resumes, interview tips, and how to dress for success.
Most importantly, have a positive attitude, do not take your cellphone into the interview, speak well, and try to be as outgoing and professional as possible.
Now go land that job!
Heather Boulger is the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board in Pittsfield.