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A summer job can do wonders for a teenager. Early work experience can be a critical component of preparing youth for the transition to adulthood, as well as gaining those vital “soft skills” (e.g. reliability, maturity, character) that employers look for in entry-level workers.

The early months of the year are an excellent time for teenagers to begin looking for summer employment. Such early jobs can take various forms including internships, service projects, volunteer work and, for the real “go getters,” youth-run businesses and entrepreneurship. It doesn’t matter what type of job you’re employed in, getting a start in the work world will provide numerous benefits that can be utilized for a lifetime.

Youth workshops in Palmdale

A summer job can increase a person’s knowledge of specific occupational skills and workplace settings. You can establish a work history and connections, which can be vital advantages for the upwardly mobile person. You can develop an understanding of different occupations in order to make informed career choices. Research even suggests that work-based training may increase school performance, decrease drop-out rates, and increase college attendance compared to teenagers who do not work during the summer months.

The Palmdale Works Youth Job Academy is hosting through March 10 a series of workshops designed to instill a strong work ethic in area youth. Organizers hope that early information about the competitive job market will encourage youth to think about the future, how to land and retain a job and, most importantly, learn about the responsibilities of an employee as well as interacting with coworkers from a variety of backgrounds.

Academy students will be taught how to dress and prepare for a job interview, and they will meet for mock interviews with local employers from area businesses. Organizers want to send out young people with the skills they need to be successful in the workworld and that means developing strong individual skills to ultimately get hired, keep the job and possibly get promoted.

“Participation in a program like this says a lot to potential employers about the motivation and commitment of any young person entering the job market,” said Trish Jones, Palmdale community programs supervisor. “It’s important that teenagers learn about gainful employment not only for the summer, but the skills they can be exposed to will carry them onto professional success as they get older.”

Los Angeles County invests in youth

For about 10 years, the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board have worked to make youth employment a top priority. Over the years, more than 40,000 youth have received work experience during the summer months. In 2013, a unique program called “Earn and Learn” was instituted to provide youth with an opportunity to succeed in the modern workplace by participating in a mandatory 25 hours of classroom personal development training. The program is helping expose teenagers to career pathways in so-called “high-growth” employment sectors while assigning the youth to real-world workplace settings to gain valuable employment skills and to earn an income.

The county’s investment in youth employment training is designed to pay off in succeeding years. The programs they administer are designed to engage youth in training or class activities that develop those important “common sense” skills that are important in all aspects of life. Specifically, these skills are those that employers expect workers to have from day one including communication skills, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills and lifelong learning skills. However, most young people—from practically all socio-economic strata—will have a deficit in so-called “hard skills” or those attributes gained only with years of practical experience in a job setting. Therefore, organizations like the Palmdale academy teach young people how to articulate thoughts and ideas more clearly and effectively.

The ‘opportunity gap’

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are explored in depth and focus on sound reasoning and analytical thinking, how to use knowledge, facts and data to solve workplace problems. Professionalism is essential in landing and maintaining a job. Things like personal accountability and effective work habits (e.g. punctuality, working with others toward a goal, time management, etc.) are equally important for young people not only in a work environment, but also socially. Young job seekers must understand teamwork and collaboration. Building productive and professional working relationships is an important asset, especially among colleagues, supervisors and customers.

Los Angeles County is an amazingly diverse community, therefore learning how to work with persons of different backgrounds is essential in building good relationships, honing negotiation skills, and how to manage conflict in the workplace.

A new term has emerged, the summer “opportunity gap,” which has placed focus on the lack of youth job opportunities. A survey conducted last year by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 46 percent of youth who applied for summer jobs were turned down. The report revealed that this lack of early work experience contributes directly to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success—particularly for low-income students who frequently lose access to critical supports that keep them safe, healthy and engaged when school is in session. Summer work experience has been shown by agencies such as the Palmdale academy to divert youth from criminal involvement and reduce involvement in violence. They also offer a chance for young people to get their first exposure to the workplace and build financial skills they can develop throughout their lives. These benefits are only possible, according to the report, if young people can find those early job opportunities.

High cost of idle youth

The federal government has tried to step in and provide assistance to youth job training and placement programs. The Summer Opportunity Project is a multi-agency effort in partnership with the National Summer Learning Association and other participants to provide support to communities by increasing the percentage of youth in evidence-based summer opportunity programs, as well as to decrease the percentage of youth experiencing violence over the summer. More broadly, the program wants to make sure that young people have the support they need to land and keep their first job.

A federal labor department report revealed a startling gap in youth employment in terms of Whites and persons of color. Black and Latino teenagers lag far behind their peers in summer employment and also in year-round jobs. This employment gap is said to broaden as minority young men get older, making them the highest percentage of the nearly seven million youth 16-25 disconnected from school and work. This gap in mobility for teenage minorities comes at a high price for local tax payers. A county audit conducted recently found that the average cost of incarcerating a youth has soared to $233,600 a year, significantly higher than other comparable jurisdictions. For instance, Chicago’s yearly cost for jailing a teenager amounted to $204,400; in San Diego it was $127,750, and in Houston the amount $84,680. Officials at the county probation department remark that these figures can be traced directly to the lack of job opportunities for inner-city youth–particularly in the summer months—because there tends to be too much idle time and not enough meaningful opportunities in which teenagers can engage.

‘We need to invest in these kids’

“There is so much waste,” said Jacqueline Caster, a member of the L.A. County probation commission. She explained that the high cost of incarcerating youth is putting pressure not only on the department, but on county government and the private sector. When underserved youth have access to job opportunities, she said, the less chance they’ll find themselves in juvenile hall.

Supervisor Hilda Solis believes investing in young people can pay off in the long term. And that investment means job training and placement.

“We need to invest in these kids,” Solis said, “but we need to invest smartly, to make sure that public investments lead to the outcomes that we all want to see, which is to restore these young people to productive and peaceful citizenship.”

The U.S. labor department reported that, nationwide, the unemployment rate among teenagers is roughly 21 percent. However, among Black teenagers ages 16 to 19 years, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is an astonishing 49 percent and rising. While federal and state agencies have advocated for an increase in the minimum wage (only about 2 percent of hourly workers earn the minimum wage), the overwhelming majority of teenagers begin work earning the minimum wage. Countywide, the unemployment rate among Black teenagers is just above 28 percent. Most national and statewide labor studies point to the increasing number of adults filling jobs in fast food restaurants—ordinarily positions that teenagers occupy during the summer months—as a reason why the teen unemployment rate is so high.

Earn and Learn a success

The Earn and Learn program may be the county’s best opportunity to increase youth employment. Besides the 25 hours of personal development training, youth are exposed to “real-world” workplace settings, thus gaining valuable employment skills and, importantly, earning an income. In order to participate, they must be a county resident from 14 to 24 years of age, and have a right to work in the United States. The program provides six weeks of combined work readiness and work experience for 20 or more hours per week. The mandatory 25 hours of training includes learning about work ethics, career exploration, life skills and financial literacy. These are all entry-level positions that pay the minimum wage and a variety of employers throughout the county are participating in the program to provide teenagers with valuable work experience.

Early this month, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative introduced more than 30 companies—from fast food operators to department stores—to connect the county’s more than 200,000 Opportunity Youth candidates to meaningful job opportunities and resources. The group has partnered with county agencies, as well as with the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Los Angeles Opportunity Youth Collaborative to get more kids working this summer. They conducted a job fair at the Los Angeles Convention Center where about 4,000 young people interviewed with dozens of leading employers, practiced their interview skills, received tips on building a resume and got a little coaching on how to complete a job application. Similar job fairs were hosted in Phoenix and Chicago.

“We have made great strides in supporting today’s young people, but our work is far from done,” said Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell. “Right here in Los Angeles County—where Taco Bell began—we know that nearly 19 percent of young people are out of school and not working, while hundreds of open positions go unfilled each day. As one of America’s top employers and a company passionate about building communities and helping youth find their passions, we have a unique opportunity to inspire young people to tap into their potential by equipping them with skills to succeed on the job and in life.”

For more details about the Palmdale Works! Youth Job Academy, call (661) 267-5473