According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for U.S. workers ages 16 to 19 is nearly 27 percent—triple the rate of the overall workforce and a record low for this fresh-faced demographic. Still, there are opportunities to be found. Here are ways South Jersey teens can defy the odds and land the job they seek.
Polish Your People Skills
Right after interviewing for a part-time position at a bakery near his Cherry Hill home, Josh Warren, age 15, got a handshake, an apron and a job. Great Harvest Bread Co. owner Patrick Kenny says he hired Josh because the teen maintained steady eye-contact throughout their exchange. “It totally sealed the deal,” says Kenny. It was from previous volunteer work soliciting donations for a charity fund-drive that Warren says he learned that looking someone in the eye demonstrates confidence, maturity and composure.
According to Kenny, teens with tact have an edge. “I always have an eye out for bright, energetic high-schoolers with great personalities,” he says. “I love watching them learn, mature and grow in this environment.”
Bank on Your Talents
Josh’s responsibilities at Great Harvest include working the counter, baking, and bagging product. Entry-level jobs such as Warren’s typically call for friendly people who can deal with customers—no need for applicants to have a degree or even much experience. Such jobs also tend to have flexible shifts—handy for teens who need to accommodate school schedules.
Teens with talents other than a winning way with people might also want to try being their own boss. When she was a high school freshman, Mount Laurel resident and Miss New Jersey Teen USA 2010 Erica Szymanski, age 18, started earning income as a violinist-for-hire at weddings, funerals and other family-type functions.
Szymanski says the gigs have provided her with a healthy rainy day fund while allowing her to be her own boss. This, says Szymanski, was especially important as she juggled her classical music studies and school work along with her many public service duties as an ambassador for Miss Teen USA.
Use Your Connections
In addition to having a unique and in-demand talent, Szymansk benefits from having the right connections. Her mother, Krystyna, is a florist who helps arrange gigs for her daughter through her many contacts in the event-planning industry.
Beginning at age 15, Callie Sollenberger, now 17, parlayed her own social network into a steady stream of revenue. Solely relying upon her Collingswood community connections, Sollenberger landed jobs as a restaurant hostess, Sunday school daycare provider, and dance instructor. This summer, she scooped frozen treats at Cabana Water Ice along Collingswood’s Haddon Avenue before heading off to Connecticut to attend the University of New Haven. Callie says she earned enough to cover expenses and focus on her studies her freshman year, but adds, “Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a job during my sophomore year.”
Local teens can also find connections online. Check out GrooveJobs.com or SimplyHired.com. These sites match teens with local, age-appropriate employment, and offer advice on interviewing, resumes, time management and job-hunting.
Don’t Overdo It
Effective time management is the aspect of teens-at-work that most worries Neil Rosa, director of athletics for Moorestown High School. “The whole ethos of society has changed in recent years. Kids have much less time today … pursuing success has meant abandoning just being a teenager sometimes.” Rosa worries that teens might fall victim to “unrealistic time management,” stressing them out and pulling them off track.
Szymanski, who will enter Drexel University this fall to study bio-sciences, says it wasn’t always easy balancing a good GPA with music gigs and pageant practice. Knowing her priorities and sticking to a schedule, she says, “guided where I put my energy and how I divided my time.”
Enjoy the Rewards of a Job Well done
Even with just a few shifts a week earning minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) at Great Harvest, Josh Warren has enough to pad his pocket and save. Yet, he says, the true value in having a job at his age is more than just graduating from change-jar to checking account—it’s earning the respect of one’s employer and being trusted with real responsibilities outside the home for the first time. Not to mention, he adds, “It’s fun! I really look forward to going to work. It may sound weird, but I’ll look back after a shift and think, ‘Wow. I really had a good time today.’”
What the Law Says About Teens and Work
New Jersey limits the number of hours that laborers under the age of 18 can work, as well as the types of labor they can do. Once teens are hired, they must get their employment certification—aka, working papers—from their high school. These are to be signed by their parent, paired with a doctor’s note stating the applicant is healthy enough for the job. One physical is valid for four years. This is then returned to the high school, with proof of age, for approval. The completed paperwork is then due to the employer, who sends it to the State for review. The process must be repeated for every employer a teen works for before turning 18.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family, Volume 1, Issue 6 (August, 2010).
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