Prospects for Youth Employment Improve, Yet Concerns Remain

By Joseph Coombs Jun 5, 2015
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For the past several years, San Francisco officials have scrambled to find jobs for younger residents as summer approaches. And through partnerships with local nonprofits and the private sector, the city to date has matched nearly 20,000 of its youths with warm-weather work gigs.

But unlike the temporary nature of those jobs—in San Francisco and countless communities across the country—demand certainly exists for youth employment programs to operate as year-round efforts. Even as the nation’s labor market has improved, thus increasing the prospects for 2015 college graduates and other job seekers, unemployment remains elevated for those of high school and college age.

The U.S. jobless rate was 5.4 percent in April 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for 20-to-24-year-olds, it was 9.6 percent, and for 16-to-19-year-olds, the unemployment rate was nearly three times the national average at 17.1 percent.

“It’s no longer just about serving kids on break from college,” said Laurel Arvanitidis of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, speaking about the city’s Summer Jobs + program. “Youth unemployment is a huge problem not only here, but for all of California and the rest of the United States.”

Similar efforts are underway in other large cities. The Internship Collaborative—created by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston—operates, a free website designed as a centralized platform to match Boston-area college students with internships available at local employers.

The site is more than just a vehicle for job openings, said Erin Trabucco, senior policy advisor with the Boston Chamber. Its long-term intent is to build workforce skills among the city’s youth and perhaps establish a more permanent connection between them and their first employers. “It has become such an important retention tool,” she said.

And if one recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey is any indication, many younger workers are clearly in need of the chance to hone their job qualifications. The most common skills that organizations believe that 2015 college graduates are lacking are “professionalism/work ethic” (43 percent), “writing in English” (e.g., grammar, spelling) (29 percent), and “relationship-building/soft skills” (29 percent), according to The Hiring of 2015 College Graduates, released by SHRM in April 2015.

Here are several recent projections for youth employment prospects, and views on the state of young workers, for the summer of 2015:

*Hiring should be steady for college graduates in 2015, according to SHRM’s college graduates report. Among HR professionals surveyed, one-fifth of respondents (20 percent) said they hired college graduates to begin working after graduation, and another 15 percent hired this year’s graduates to begin working before graduation. Of those who planned to hire 2015 college graduates, 18 percent offered total higher compensation to graduates this year, compared with a year ago.

*Summer jobs are “returning at a faster pace this year,” according to a report from CareerBuilder. More than one-third of private-sector employers (36 percent) are hiring seasonal workers this year, up from 30 percent in 2014 and an average of just 21 percent from 2008-2011. The vast majority—77 percent—of employers said they would consider some summer hires for permanent positions. Employers told CareerBuilder that workers who “proactively ask for more responsibilities” and are “unafraid to contribute ideas” are the best positioned to make a temporary job permanent.

*Governments need to step up their efforts to get more young people into jobs, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s Skills Outlook 2015 report. The organization, which promotes economic development and social change in developed countries, said in its survey of 22 countries that more than 35 million young people, ages 16-29, are neither employed nor in education or training programs at the moment. Overall, young people are twice as likely as prime-age workers to be unemployed, the report said.

*Recent improvements in the economy and unemployment rate should serve as positive indicators for new college graduates, according to The Class of 2015, a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. However, this class still faces real economic challenges, according to EPI. Graduating in a relatively weak economy can have long-lasting economic consequences, the report said. Economic research suggests that for the next 10 to 15 years, members of the Class of 2015 will likely earn less than if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful.

*Even with more job opportunities available for teens this summer, it appears as though many of them aren’t interested in looking for work, according to the 2015 Teen Summer Job Outlook from outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The labor force participation rate among 16-to-19-year-olds has been in a steady decline since the 1970s, the report said. And while the firm’s CEO, John Challenger, doesn’t attribute that trend to laziness—many teens are busy with extracurricular activities and summer educational programs in lieu of finding work, he said—young people might be “doing themselves a disservice” by shunning a traditional summer job. “Study after study show that earning power and success throughout one’s career is improved significantly by working as a teenager,” Challenger said. “While it is important to prepare for college and life beyond college, working a summer job should be considered part of that preparation.”

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.​

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