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The summer job: Here's how teens can take the initiative

SALT LAKE CITY — Kyle Clark is accustomed to working hard to make a few bucks. Growing up on a 10-acre farm in Utah County, the 15-year-old Spanish Fork High School tenth-grader-to-be learned at an early age what it takes to “earn your keep.”

“I’ve always helped my grandpa do a lot of work,” he said. “I also have a lot of neighbors and help them do a lot of work around their farms, too.”

His work ethic and drive is one of the keys teenagers need to both get and keep a job, experts in teen employment said. But finding summer employment has been a struggle for some teens as changes to a workforce emerging from a recession continues to impact employment.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that the share of teens working summer jobs has steadily dwindled since the early 1990s. After bottoming out in 2010 and 2011 at 29.6 percent employment, the teen summer employment rate remained relatively flat — registering 31.3 percent in summer 2014 and 35 percent by this year, according to labor figures.

Utah is doing better, with 48 percent of Utah teens in the workforce or actively looking for work, Carrie Mayne, chief economist of Utah's Department of Workforce Services, said. She said there are 158,700 teens in the state labor force, about 7.5 percent of the overall workforce.

“Of all teenagers age 16 to 19, 48 percent of them are either holding a job or actively looking for a job,” she said. Roughly 11.4 percent of Utah teens are considered unemployed and actively looking for work compared to 16 percent nationally, she said.

For Clark, the job includes hauling hay, yard cleanup and various small projects that help to maintain the property, he said.

“We have pigs, cows, horses, some chickens, a couple of cats and some dogs,” Clark said. In addition, the farm grows hay, grain and has a vegetable garden.

The oldest of seven children, Clark said he's working to earn enough to buy a car and wants to set an example for his five younger sisters and 9-year old brother. They watch as their older brother canvasses the neighborhood for odd jobs that homeowners could use help with.

“I live in an area with quite a few elderly people,” he said. “They need help doing yardwork and other simple things, and they’ll pay me for it,” he said.

Finding work

Teens who have the opportunity to earn money and develop good work habits now will receive great payoffs when applying for educational or employment opportunities in the future, said Kathy Riggs, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor.

She said there four common tips that will help young people land a good summer job, including starting the search sooner than later; visiting prospective employers in person; making a positive first impression by presenting a clean, neat appearance with modest clothing; and cultivating a spirit of entrepreneurship by offering a service or learning a desired skill.

“If they can find a business that has something to do with their interest, they can go out and find people who are willing to teach them those skills and give them a little more expertise,” she said.

Go to the business prepared to share ideas on how you could be an asset to the company, she advised. Some employers may find a place for you simply based on your willingness to “pound the pavement,” she said.

Though “Sunday best” is not required at all interviews, for most part-time jobs, a neat appearance is a must, Riggs said. Speaking with respect, good manners and good language skills to a potential employer shows that you are mature and can communicate well, she said.

Creativity could pay off. Offering to teach lessons, running errands for homebound or busy adults, doing house or yardwork, walking and/or caring for pets, washing and detailing cars, window washing or painting are all potential job opportunities for motivated individuals.

Even if some jobs pay little or nothing, having a job to add to a resume may give you the edge for future openings, Riggs said.

State programs are also available to help teenagers land work, with dedicated programs aimed at connecting teens with potential job opportunities. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act internship program allows the Department of Workforce Services to partner with an employer to reimburse the company 100 percent of paid wages for hiring an applicant for up to three months.

“We can help youth who have had some barriers to employment such as no work history,” said Nicole Tylka, DWS Youth Training supervisor. “We can reach out to an employer and say, ‘If you hire this youth, we’ll reimburse everything, plus give (the employer) a bonus at the end of the internship (in some cases).’”

She said there are also summer job fairs in which interested applicants can meet with employers. In addition, the agency also can provide help through employment resources centers statewide, Tylka said.

“We have free workshops on resume writing, interviewing and how to job search,” she said. Teen candidates can ask questions specifically geared toward their demographic, she said.

Benefit to teenagers

The benefit to the teenager, said Riggs: Learning to adhering to a schedule, developing a good work ethic and saving part of what they earn will help teens gain skills that will help them as they mature toward adulthood.

Having just graduated high school, Jessica Meeks, 18, is eagerly approaching the next phase of her young life. She recently started her first job at an educational facility to help home-schooled kids graduate high school. She had no prior experience, but took initiative, impressed during several interviews, and got the job.

This fall, Meeks will enroll at Utah State University as an international business major. Like many students in her position, she recognized that making money this summer to further her education would be critical.

“I’m paying for my entire college experience, so it was really important for me to have a job,” she said. “I also wanted to get something that wasn’t like fast food, something that would give me work experience.”

The job pays better than most entry-level positions and will allow her to continue working (remotely) during the school year. Since starting with her company, she has received a raise, some scholarships through the firm and made contacts that could be valuable in the future, she said.

“It’s a sweet gig!” Meeks said. Landing such a good job has “made my education experience more meaningful,” she said.

“Because now I can pay for (school) by myself, I’ll take it more seriously,” she said. “This summer I’m working almost 40 hours a week, and I get to work with adults and kids. It’s given me a whole variety of experiences. That is very valuable.”

This spring, Logan resident Kathleen Thomas, 17, completed the academic requirements necessary to graduate high school in just three years. Home-schooled since the fifth grade, she long been a high achiever and highly motivated.

“I’ve been doing school-year jobs since I was 13 or 14, just a baby-sitting job once a week,” she said. Last summer I started working for a family in our neighborhood.”

She began wrapping and packaging honey caramel treats for a local candy company. Additionally, she works part-time at a day care center and at an amusement company that does inflatable rides and slides.

She also started her own business of teaching youth theater lessons and began producing and directing her own small productions, in addition to performing in local theater productions.

Her goal is to save the money she makes to pay for college and “life, when I need a car and all that stuff.”

Her advice to other teens is to be proactive about creating employment opportunities.

“Be willing to put yourself out there, even though it’s really scary,” Thomas said. “You have to be willing to talk to people and (positive) things will come back to you.”


Info Box

Places for teen job seekers to look into include, parks, recreation areas, campgrounds, day and summer camps, swimming pools and golf courses

• Concession areas for sporting events

• Hotels, resorts, museums and other tourist-related destinations

• Fast-food and casual dining restaurants, including ice cream parlors and juice retailers

• Moving and packing companies

WIOA Youth Program Overview:

Job Preparation Resources:

Link to DWS workshop schedule

Link to the Smart Start guide


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