Time to Put Young People to Work

It’s never been easy for young people to find summer employment, especially low-income youths from urban areas. It’s seemingly always been a case of too much competition and too few opportunities.
And this year, it appears that things will get even worse. Indeed, a recent study conducted by the Center for Labor Market Studies shows that this will likely be the most difficult year in the past two decades for young people to secure summer employment. And it is that dire prediction that led Bill Ward, president and CEO of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, to note that it will take a concerted effort of the private sector, working in partnership with local, state, and federal government, to secure something approaching adequate numbers of summer jobs.
He made that assessment at the recent launch of the REB’s annual YouthWorks summer jobs program, where he was joined at the podium by the mayors of Springfield and Holyoke, as well as other area leaders, all of whom made the case for employers and municipalities to be bold and creative and find ways to create summer job opportunities.
We hope the collective messages resonate, because, as we’ve stated on many occasions over the years, summer jobs (which are often first jobs for those fortunate enough to get one) are an important part of the overall learning process for young people, as well as another vehicle for building a solid workforce for the future.
In short, they’re very important for the continued growth and prosperity of the region.
Employers in both the public and private sectors understand this, but many are facing enormous challenges of their own. While the Great Recession is being talked about mostly in the past tense, there is lingering hardship, not to mention large amounts of doubt about whether the state’s economy will continue to rebound, and, if so, to what extent.
In this climate, it’s easy to see why employers would be cautious about adding any help — even a teenager making $8 per hour, 20 hours per week. In this environment, it would be easy for employers to say ‘no, not this year’ when it comes to expanding their payrolls.
We’re hoping that they can do what’s more difficult and say ‘yes,’ thus giving a young person a tremendous opportunity that they will long remember.
Summer jobs, especially first jobs, do many things. First, they can help take young people off the streets and perhaps keep them out of trouble at a critical juncture in their lives. They can also put a little money in their pockets and their bank accounts, and thus introduce them to the concepts of earning an income and, hopefully, proper money management.
But, perhaps more importantly, such jobs introduce people to the world of work. They can learn about what to wear, how to work with the public, what it’s like to have people count on you, and, if conditions are right, what it’s like to be part of a team.
What’s more, in some cases, summer jobs can open young people’s eyes to career possibilities and introduce them to companies they may want to work for years down the road.
Add it all up, and it’s evident that mostly good things happen when businesses consider young people to fulfill their summer hiring needs. It is our hope that companies across many sectors will heed the call and make this a summer to earn and learn for area young people.

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