For better or worse, the traditional summer job for most teens is going the way of the dinosaur. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 43.2 percent of young people ages 16 to 19 participated in the labor force in July 2016, compared to 71.8 percent in 1978.
The reasons for the decline are varied -- increased competition for entry-level jobs, a rise in unpaid internships, and more participation in summer classes. The result? Kids are having to get creative and entrepreneurial if they want to make some money, get work experience, and add to their resumes before applying to college.
We reached out to figures around Boston in a wide variety of fields to see what advice they have for teens hoping to make the most of the summer months.
Associate director of the Lewis Institute
and the Babson Social Innovation Lab:
“We’re in an increasingly unknowable and unpredictable world, and the traditional pathways that existed 20 and 30 years ago when I was in school are not what kids see in the world today. If I’m a kid and I’m interested in entrepreneurship but don’t have anything to do this summer, what I would say is that you should begin to open yourself up to opportunities that might exist right in your community.
“Look at where you see challenges, and begin to investigate how you might approach those challenges from your own perspective and with your own ideas. Begin to ask questions of people around you, and really bring those challenges to the forefront. Then start working with people who are also interested in those challenges. And if you like the idea you’re working on, submit it to the Babson Boston Cup.”
Director of undergraduate admissions at Bentley University
“It’s definitely important to get a little R and R over the summer, but if you’re planning on continuing on to college after high school, it is important for kids to realize that this is a great time to have meaningful experiences. They certainly don’t have to be work-related, either. I have a daughter who is 14, and she’s volunteering at the local library because she loves reading. She came home last night raving about the fact that she had signed up more than 20 kids to the summer reading program there.
“We in the admissions office are really looking for that balance between academic focus and time spent on outside activities. When we see that you appreciate keeping your brain active and giving back, that has a lot of merit.”
Chef and restaurateur
“Read cookbooks and experiment in the kitchen. Two of my biggest mentors as a young cook were chefs Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, and I never worked in their kitchens or even had even met them at that point. I devoured their cookbooks, absorbing as much information as I could to apply to my own cooking. Also, kids now are lucky to have the Internet as a resource for inspiration and education. Utilize video tutorials as tools to build your skill-set and practice as much as you can.
“Restaurants [also] offer an opportunity to job shadow called a ‘stage’ that you should absolutely take advantage of and can be lined up on pretty short notice. Reach out to a restaurant that you like and inquire about staging in their kitchen. If the part of the culinary world that excites you is the raw product, reach out to one of the many local farms to see if they need a hand during the busy summer season. You’ll learn about where food is coming from, and the hard work that goes into providing great ingredients.”
Mass. Audubon statewide volunteer program coordinator
“In general, I think volunteering is a great way for a teen to build their community service ethic while also building up their college application. Even for future employment, volunteer [experience] on applications goes a long way. You want to show you weren’t sitting around all summer just playing video games.
“Volunteering with a conservation organization like the Audubon is a great way to volunteer for kids interested in science and the environment. But even if you’re not, it’s a good way to get outside and visit some beautiful properties. Plus, volunteering generally makes you feel pretty good. You’ve done something beneficial for the world that’s not required. And really, we can’t do our job without that help ... we really do appreciate having volunteers, and we love having young adults. They’re the future of the planet and of the Massachusetts Audubon.”
CEO and cofounder of software company, HubSpot
“Well, for one, you could take the HubSpot academy courses [if you’re interested in marketing]. You can get certified on inbound marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, all sorts of areas. It’s not easy, but if you can get those certifications you automatically become more valuable.
“Outside of HubSpot, there are a lot of code camps out there available online where you can study coding techniques. That’s going to set you up pretty well, maybe better than if you spent your summer as a lifeguard. If you’re a high school kid and you get certified, you can get out there and start charging, say, 50 bucks an hour to start doing work for businesses. You can get every pizza shop, gas station, ice cream place, anything in your town, because pretty much everyone needs marketing services. You can make some money, which is pretty good motivation in my book.”
Executive director of 826 Boston, a nonprofit youth
“The big threads of our work [at 826] are the publishing and the individualized attention we can give to young writers. So even if you can’t work with us, I would really try to avoid working on your writing all by yourself. I don’t think that writing in a silo works very well, even for professional writers.
“I would say, try to find opportunities where there’s a finished product at the end. Whether that’s a poetry slam or a book of poems that you self-publish, just have something in hand by the end of it. Particularly for adolescents, the social aspect of developing a new skill is important, so don’t be afraid to work with other people or show them your work.”
Founder and executive director of Future Chefs,
which prepares young people for jobs in the culinary field
“If you can get any job in the food industry, literally any job, it will help you pick up transferable skills that you can put on your resume. You can say, ‘I’m hard-working, I’m a leader, I’m good at delegating, and I can prove it because I had this experience.’ There’s a really low barrier to entry in the culinary world, and there’s a high need for help. If young people are willing to prep, bus, and clean, then it can really help both them and the kitchens out.
“If you’re really fascinated with the culinary world but don’t have the time to work in a restaurant, find some way to volunteer in any aspect of it. You can volunteer at a farm even. Just go one time and talk to the farmers about what they do. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, and get to know the chefs that volunteer there. The main thing is to build a network of people in the industry.”Interviews were edited and condensed. Alex Frandsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.