Commentary

Labor Shortage? More Teens Take Summer Off Work

Summer is well underway, but instead of working at fast-food joints, retail stores and amusement parks, teens are focusing on their studies, athletics and community service. That’s the conclusion of a new CNBC report that investigates the phenomenon of record-low teen summer employment.

As recently as 20 years ago, three in five teens 16-19 were working or looking for a job in the summer. In 2018, only two in five were, maintaining a low first reached during the Great Recession a decade ago. About a third of teens 16-19 held a summer job in 2018 or 2008; 20 or 30 years ago, more than half did.

What’s taking the place of work in teens’ summer schedules? Increasingly, coursework. In 1985, about one in ten teens 16-19 were enrolled in summer school. In 2018, nearly half were. In addition, with college admissions being so highly competitive, many teens are also using the summer to train in their sport; take courses to prepare for the SAT or ACT exams; or volunteer in their communities, in part to give their college application that extra “edge.” All of these activities come at the expense of working for pay. Even those who work are increasingly asking their employers to schedule their shifts around their co-curricular activities.

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As a result, employers who rely on teens to fill their workforce are facing an increasing labor shortage. How can these brands address the challenge of the Incredible Vanishing Teen Worker?

*Hire older adults. While teens retreat from the workforce, older adults are staying on the job longer than ever before. The share of workers 65 or older continues to rise (from about 11% in 1985 to 20% today), because there are so many baby boomers, they’re healthier than previous generations, and they also have greater financial needs such as mortgages, student loans and grandkids to raise, and fewer resources in the form of pensions, IRAs and 401ks.

This summer, McDonald’s is partnering with the AARP to fill 250K seasonal positions that ordinarily might have gone to teens. So as your company evaluates its summer staffing needs, consider untapped labor pools such as senior citizens, parents returning to the workforce, or those looking for a fresh start after a major setback (prison, addiction, etc.).

*Emphasize learning. When it comes to hiring teens, the money’s important, but not the only factor to be considered. Increasingly, teens want to develop skills that they can apply to their academic careers and side hustles. So as part of your recruiting, tell teens what they’re going to learn from your company, how they might apply those skills, and what they might do for their life and career. Some companies are even offering formal learning programs: Walmart offers teen workers SAT and ACT prep courses. Beyond that, give teens the opportunity to develop their technology, time management, budgeting, forecasting and social skills. Those investments will pay dividends for everybody.

*Provide a path for advancement. Teens are increasingly rejecting “dead-end,” entry-level positions in favor of those that provide a pathway into management and leadership opportunities. CNBC’s report mentions the Tropical Smoothie Café chain in Atlanta, where about three-quarters of the employees are teens. The company has no problem recruiting and retaining teens because it offers these kinds of advancement opportunities. So consider how your new teen employee of today can be your trainer, recruiter, supervisor, social media manager or corporate social responsibility expert of tomorrow.

Maintaining a strong pipeline of young workers is a full-time, year-round job for any company. By following these best practices, your brand can enjoy a sizzling summer of growth and success.
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