Has summer sidelined the soft skills of youth?

Many teens lack the soft skills needed to succeed in life. MSU Extension and 4-H can help!

Was your 16 to 19 year old employed this summer? Many Americans would say “No!” in an exasperated way and they wouldn’t be alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of employment for 16 to 19 year olds has fallen since 2000. It now hovers around 16 percent, creating a major gap between teens and the 20 to 24 year old range.

Why does this gap exist? There are various reasons. Due to the recession and slow recovery of our economy since then, highly educated people were often forced to take lower wage “summer jobs” or seasonal employment to supplement their lower wages. Additionally, teens are increasingly involved in other sports, activities and travel that conflict with summer employment opportunities.

Regardless of the reason for the gap, teens without summer employment may be losing the soft skills normally developed through a summer job. Soft skills include work ethic, work place etiquette, meeting protocols, customer service, money handling on the job, handling of the money they earn, friendliness, eye contact, handshakes, workplace attire, grooming, etc. These are not always taught in schools and are usually learned and applied in a summer job setting.

Summer jobs provide a great opportunity for youth to develop soft skills as they allow teens to cut their teeth in the work world. The low-stress employment environment of a summer job allows youth to learn from elders, co-workers and business owners. Through these experiences, youth develop crucial social and life skills, as well as learn lessons that can help them to be successful in the workforce. These experiences provide valuable knowledge that will transfer to a youth’s first job outside of college or high school and could play a major role in advancing their position.

So what is a parent to do to help their non-employed teen learn soft skills? Michigan State University Extension offers various opportunities through its 4-H programs to help develop these soft skills. From raising animals in the animal sciences to fostering innovation, creativity and job skills in the entrepreneurial programs, MSU Extension has many ways youth can gain experience and apply job ready skills. Other programs, including career preparation, focus on getting youth ready for the next and future steps in the workforce with curriculums such as Build Your Future and NEFE (a high school financial planning program that helps youth budget their money once they start making it). 4-H also offers community and service learning projects that provide opportunities to build skills and interact with a variety of people. No matter what the program, 4-H can help youth to build soft skills and more that can be included on their resume and enrich their applications for college admittance.

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