Kids and Working: We Need to Get to Them Earlier
photo courtesy of Hoysmeg
Most managers look at the generation coming out of school with a fair degree of skepticism that they’ll be able to make a serious contribution early on.
To a large extent, this view is accurate. Most young women and men aren’t adequately prepared to deliver even minimum wage value. Often times it’s a lack of basic skills but, too frequently, it’s the attitude toward work.
A lot of kids want money and know they have to work to get it, but they don’t care much for actually doing it. Work looks boring, tedious, repetitive, uninspiring, and generally uncool. Maybe this is because we’ve done a poor job of selling the benefits.
How do young people view the world of work?
I addressed a couple of groups of high school students yesterday during their annual career festival. Over 40 young women and men, covering grades 9-12. I’m in the publishing and training fields and these aren’t areas of great interest for youth, so I decided to deliver some practical information with a handout and discussion on “25 Ways to Impress a Boss.”
It turned out that about 60% of the participants were thinking of getting a summer job, so the timing was good. The conversation was reasonably lively and most acknowledged that they’d have to start with a minimum wage position. My opening question was, “Would you be interested if I could show you some ways to get beyond minimum wage faster than other workers?”
That got their attention. Well, at least the attention of some.
Over the next hour we chewed over the strategies to get ahead on the job, laughed a bit, and for the most part they did pay polite attention. Maybe 10 people were really engaged with the topic, 10 were disengaged, and the other 20 came in and out. This is probably pretty close to what we see in our organizations:
- 25 % of workers are involved
- 25 % uninvolved
- 50 % living somewhere between the two at any given moment
This isn’t scientific by any means but I began tossing together tidbits of conversations I’d previously held with both employers and young workers, and concluded that the attitude toward work is established long before youngsters leave school.
Think about it, I was standing there and giving them the keys to manipulate their boss (hey — but in a good and productive way), to make sure their employer:
- Is ecstatic that they’re part of the team
- Wants to promote and pay them more
- Worries that they’ll leave to work for someone else, so they pay them still more
— and 75% of the kids in the room were somewhere between mildly interested and mentally in the next ZIP code.
My generation got info like that at their age, and most of us couldn’t wait to be old enough to get part-time work. What I would have given for the “25 Ways” when I got my first job.
We need to start earlier
I’ve had my share of curriculum debates with educators and I’m convinced that this is where the battle needs to be waged, though it won’t be easy.
Believe me, I have nothing against the subjects being offered in our schools, other than the reality that much of what a child learns by high school graduation will not have a direct application to how she or he spends the rest of their adult life — working to earn a living.
Why can’t the regular curriculum have a slot for how to get a job and do well, or ways to be entrepreneurial, or how to set up finances, or conduct a relationship, or 100 other things that will come about after they move on from the required 12 grades of edeucation?
These shouldn’t be electives. Is understanding how to handle money elective for you and me? Is knowing how to get along with a spouse? How about keeping a job?
Like I said, any such battle will be difficult to win and those who would oppose the effort to bring “real life” education to schools will scream loudly.
So, it’s up to us to make every opportunity count.
Exert as much influence as possible
There is much that the business community can do to improve the attitudes of young people and get them more interested in work and organizations. Here’s some ideas to get started:
- Don’t wait to be invited to speak at a career day. Volunteer for it.
- Get the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to organize and sponsor business clubs in each school, and this can start in elementary grades.
- Such groups can create colorful printed materials and Web sites, aimed at kids, to promote business and the keys to successful employment.
- Press parent-teacher organizations to call for more field trips to businesses.
- Create curriculum — I’m sure elective at this point — that will build awareness of what it takes to participate and compete in the job market. See that kids start getting these “success” materials in middle school.
- Create internships at your company for eligible high school students.
- Offer summer employment at your company. There are government programs that may pay as much as half of a student’s wage.
- Create as many scholarships as possible (can be as little as $100). These can be general or geared to students who exhibit interest in your field.
Frankly, if you and a few colleagues put your heads together, you’ll have enough solid ideas to excite school administrators, board members, teachers, and — YES — even the students themselves.
Do it for the kids.
Do it for the community.
Do it because you’ll get better quality job applicants.
Whatever your motivation…
Just do it.
I’d welcome your views on this whether it’s to offer encouragement, tell me I’m barking up the wrong tree, or anything else.