VOL. 9 | NO. 33 | Saturday, August 13, 2016
By Madeline Faber
“Yeah, I’m going to miss it,” said LaJereka Hunt, 15, on the last day of her internship with Memphis United, a grassroots group housed at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. Over the summer, Hunt attended Memphis City Council meetings, advocated for an overhaul of the city’s Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board and led more than 60 workshops focused on teaching students, many older than she, how to effectively communicate if stopped by the police.
“I’m looking at going into law school either here in Memphis or at Vanderbilt, and I want to be a criminal defender,” Hunt said. “By being partnered with Memphis United I was able to gain knowledge and do what I want to do in the future.”
She fulfilled the internship through a five-year comprehensive program hosted by Girls Inc. of Memphis that exposes young girls to careers in STEM fields. Hunt said she’s excited about taking college courses next summer through Girls Inc.’s Eureka! program.
Later this month, she’ll return to Soulsville Charter School as a sophomore. Hunt hopes to join her friends in the workforce during the fall when she’ll start looking for jobs at fast food restaurants or at value retail stores. She’ll continue with Memphis United as a volunteer.
Hunt falls in line with a growing trend of high school students turning away from traditional summer jobs.
Year after year, Carey Thompson at Rhodes College is seeing more intentional decisions being made about summer and how to spend that time.
“I think there’s a broad sense, not just at Rhodes, among all high school students, that they need to be thoughtful about preparing about the future,” said Thompson, vice president for enrollment and communication at Rhodes. “I don’t think high school students 20 and 30 years ago were as thoughtful about the future and what that held for them than they are today.”
Across the nation, fewer teens are taking jobs over the summer.
In May, traditionally the start of the summer job surge, only 156,000 people between the ages of 16 and 19 secured jobs. That figure is 14 percent lower than last May and continues a decades-long decrease in teen summer employment.
Those figures are based on an analysis of federal data by career outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Hiring perked up in June with 691,000 teens finding jobs, which is the highest level of monthly teen employment since 2013.
"However, the general trend in summer employment among teens has been downward and that trend has been going on since the late 1970s,” John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, stated in the report. The average number of teens holding summer jobs is down by nearly half compared to the peak in the 1970s.
With a national decrease in manufacturing and other skilled blue-color jobs, adults are being pushed down the ladder into the type of low-skilled jobs usually reserved for teens, the study found. That means teens are edged out of the market and have to compete with older workers for some jobs.
“I think students turning away from summer jobs is part of an uncertain economy, a changing economy and just the changes we’re seeing in the world as we transform from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy,” Thompson said. “I think people are understandably anxious. And how do students prepare for that? They make sure they get the best education they can and use the time that’s available to them in the most thoughtful way.”
Using Summertime Wisely
As traditional summer teen jobs are on the decline, more teens are seeking out extracurricular activities, volunteer work and summer internships to boost a resume and potential for college scholarships.
"Getting into college is becoming more and more competitive. Good grades alone just don't cut it anymore," said Angela Copeland, founder of Memphis-based Copeland Coaching. In her role as a career coach, Copeland helps people who are in-between jobs find employment. A teen’s summer job may not make it on a resume years later, but a well-planned summer can have lasting benefits.
Copeland would know. When she was in high school, her parents strongly encouraged her to work at a fast food restaurant. She refused.
“I truly did have to go without a lot of stuff as a kid because there were things I was expected to pay for, and I just didn’t buy those things,” Copeland said.
Instead, she attended subsidized science and math camps for the summer. During the school year, she ran a volunteer mentoring program that paired at-risk grade school students with juniors at seniors at her high school’s National Honors Society. Her efforts paid off.
“I received over $40,000 in scholarship money – much more than I could have made over the summer. It allowed me move to New York to study engineering,” Copeland said.
For teens that want to work while making the best use of their time, Copeland said to consider a paid internship. Both a job and a paid internship demonstrate responsibility, ability to work in a team and time management.
“But as an intern, you’re exposed to a new industry and a professional work environment,” she said.
Hunt said her internship with Memphis United strengthened her resolve to go to law school. This school year she will serve as a peer tutor, and she hopes to join the debate team. Her family would prefer that she focus solely on homework rather than take a job during the school year, but Hunt sees part-time employment as preparation for college.
“I want to take on the challenge because when I get to college I'm going to have to take on a job, so if I start early I can learn the negatives and the positives,” she said.
When Megan Watkins, 19, started high school, she took a job as a server at a local pizza restaurant. She said her most recent job as a veterinary technician at Germantown Farmington Animal Hospital demands more responsibility, but she’s glad she laid the foundation of work ethic at her summer restaurant job.
Later this month, she’ll head to Mississippi State to study biomedical sciences as an undergraduate.
Between walking and feeding dogs, Watkins sits in on surgeries to soak in as much as she can.
"It's usually the opposite for people,” she said. “People start working at a vet clinic and realize what it's actually like, and they don't want to do it anymore. I'd always had interest in it, and now I know this what I want to do.”
Over the summer, Watkins worked 30 hours a week at the hospital. She had to forego a family trip to the beach this summer to work, but said the time has been well spent. Her summer job is helping defray the costs of college and gives her an advantage in the college process. In her application for an early admission to the Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine, she wrote a 13-page essay about her experience at the vet hospital, with her thesis being that her job as a vet tech shows that she’s passionate and confident in her decision to pursue veterinary medicine as a career.
While Watkins wasn't granted early admission to the program, she's going to try to work as a vet tech at the college's hospital. She'll apply again to the veterinary medicine college in a couple years, but she’s not interested in another restaurant job in the meantime.
"But other than that, no other jobs, because I'm just going to study as hard as I can," she said.
Dr. Tracie Burke, director of the Honors Program at Christian Brothers University, said a summer job doesn’t bear on her decision to admit a student to the honors program.
“But when a young person does have long-term work experience, such as if they've been working somewhere for two and a half years, it does impress me,” Burke said. “It shows reliability, tenacity and strong qualities because a lot of high school kids may not demonstrate the maturity on a job that would encourage an employer to keep them.”
About a third of the high school students who applied to the Honors Program worked over the summer, with employment ranging from full-time restaurant jobs to working as a bookkeeper at a tax preparation firm. Many are interested in continuing to work during their freshman year of college, which is something Burke discourages.
She said that even a part-time position related to a student’s future employment has its drawbacks. She instead recommends that students take a work-study position on campus or an internship. Relationships with professors and staff far outweigh the monetary benefits of a part-time job, she said.
“I don't want you working 20 hours a week walking into college because it's going to be hard and it's going to detract from your overall experience,” Burke said. “Walking out of college, you should have two years of internship experience, and if you don't have internship experience, working at a restaurant is valuable.
“If you work, you’re just missing out on some of college you won't have the opportunity to re-do. You are going to have the opportunity to work for the rest of your life.”