Inside the Job Market: In tight economy, youth need to stand out among peers

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PITTSFIELD — When I was growing up, everyone in my neighborhood had a summer job. It meant independence and extra money in your pocket. It was the first time many of us learned about the importance of hard work, responsibility and accountability.

Summer jobs teach young people valuable skills such as punctuality, following directions, how to get along with others, work ethic and how to manage money.

Most of us remember having jobs like delivering newspapers, serving ice cream, running a cash register, serving as a lifeguard, or helping kids as a camp counselor. Back then, 60 percent of Berkshire County people ages 16 to 19 used to work during the summer. Today, less than 37 percent of people those ages are employed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

You should care about the rise in youth unemployment. Summer jobs help employers because they create an opportunity to train their future workforce, which reduces recruitment costs. They can also help employers reenergize their workforce. Summer jobs help revitalize the regional economy, reduce crime and inspire teens to work, thrive and live in Berkshire County.

Nationally, evidence shows that young people who work over the summer are more likely to remain in high school, have an easier transition after graduation, are less likely to get in trouble with the law and perform better in school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. They were also 86 percent more likely to have jobs the following year.

Every summer, in partnership with the MassHire Berkshire Career Center, Pittsfield and North Adams public schools and the Berkshire Workforce Board organizes employers to participate in the region's Jobs4Youth Campaign. Through this initiative, more than 60 high school students, who meet the income-eligibility requirements, are hired to work in either employer-paid jobs, subsidized work experiences, or paid internships at more than 40 local companies.

It's easy to get involved. Employers can hire a youth directly — but those who do should also notify the workforce board. Every youth employment helps secure more funding for grants to support summer jobs. To do so, contact Heather Williams at YouthDirector@MassHireBerkshire.com, or call 413-442-7177, ext. 151.

Organizations can also sponsor a young person. Every $2,000 raised provides a young person with six weeks of subsidized work experience and training. For information, visit MassHireBerkshire.com.

A word of caution: Before you bring teens into the workforce, check the child labor laws to determine restrictions around youth employment. More information is available at the Massachusetts attorney general's website, mass.gov/ago/youthemployment, or by calling 617-727-3465, or the Department of Labor's wage and hours division, dol.gov/whd or 617-624-6700.

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Land that summer job

There's a lot of competition for summer work, so it's best to start early.

Classified advertisements are a great place to start, but since most jobs aren't advertised, it's important to knock on doors and fill out applications. Make sure you dress appropriately, be pleasant and polite — first impressions matter.

Here are some tips:

- Network and market yourself: Friends and neighbors are going to be your most valuable means of finding gainful employment. Ask your school guidance counselor and teachers for help and check community center bulletin boards for job listings. Utilize social media outlets to help market yourself, especially if you're interested in self-employment options like child care and lawn maintenance.

- Be prepared: Take the application seriously. List all of the skills that you have in order to give an employer a reason to hire you. Compile a list of names, numbers and emails of people not related to you who can provide references, either personally or professionally. Ask previous employers, volunteer organizers, teachers and coaches for references.

- Dress appropriately: Dressing in business attire shows you want to be taken seriously. Be on time — arriving a few minutes early is a smart choice. Bring any information you think an employer might want to see, such as your reference letters and resume.

- Find specialized job search sites: Websites like Monster, Snagajob and GrooveJob specialize in jobs for teens and high school students. On these sites, you can search for jobs by location, interest, age range and employer. They also offer advice on writing cover letters and resumes, provide interview tips and describe how to dress for success.

Final thoughts: Do not take cellphones or other mobile devices into the interview. Be patient, but persistent. Identify your strengths, do your research, reach out for help and don't give up. Most importantly, have a positive attitude. With lots of hard work and preparation, your first job is only one application away.

Heather Boulger is executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board in Pittsfield.


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