The employment landscape in America for 16- to 24-year-olds is abysmal; the worst it’s been in more than 50 years.
So if you’ve got a teen or a young adult on your holiday gift list, don’t head to the mall or to your nearest big box retailer. What they need most from you cannot be found in stores.
According to this recent story in the Huffington Post, the employment rate for teens between the ages of 16 and 19 has fallen 42 percent over the last decade: 2.2 million teens and 4.3 million young adults aged 20 to 24 are neither working nor in school. Of those without school or work, 21 percent — or 1.4 million — are young parents.
Before blaming this crisis on the current recession, consider this: A recent study completed by Manpower reported that 52 percent of all employers in America are hiring and are finding it difficult to fill key positions.
The employment paradox
I can attest to this paradoxical employment dilemma through my own anecdotal research.
Last summer I presented a keynote address to CHART (the Council of Hospitality and Restaurant Trainers) and asked the audience of 250 top training and development professionals from the leading brands in the service sector to raise a hand if their companies were currently in a hiring mode, actively recruiting labor from the 16- to 24-year-old population. Without hesitation, almost every attendee raised a hand.
Unquestionably, there are jobs available for teens and young adults. So why is unemployment and underemployment pandemic among this young demographic?
Most employers will tell you that the emerging generation is woefully unprepared for the workplace and they are now forced to hire around them. (This white paper report — Are They Really Ready to Work — offers proof.)
As a direct result, jobs that used to go to teens and 20-somethings are now being filled by older workers who have been laid off or who are taking second or third jobs to make ends meet — not because these workers possess greater skills, but because they know how to work.
No matter how book-smart or techno-savvy young workers are, if they don’t possess and demonstrate the soft skills employers demand (reliability, integrity, a positive attitude, initiative, etc.), they are going to get passed over like an onion in a candy dish.
Massive youth unemployment affects everyone
When teens and young adults go jobless, their maturity and independence are delayed. Many end up bitter feeling ‘shafted’ and entitled to a lifestyle which they have no ability to support through their own efforts. Simultaneously, employers are forced to fish from an ever-diminishing pool of experienced labor and must either hire unqualified workers that turn out poor results, or outsource those jobs elsewhere, perhaps overseas.
Young people need to work. Even when the only jobs they can find seem, in their mind, to be “beneath them”, working creates momentum that illuminates the path of opportunity. When they don’t work, that path appears dim and their opportunities dwindle
To find a job, get a job, and keep a job, young people need advice and guidance from someone who has been there and done that and survived an even worse employment scenario. They need someone to show them how to work and how to improve their value in the marketplace by adding value to any job they have. They need a mentor who will help them develop a solid work ethic as the foundation for any and all future successes.
Change a life and improve the economy in 2013
You have the power to impact an individual and the economy by becoming a career mentor. With very little effort, you can locate an unemployed young person in your community — or a struggling underemployed young person in your company — and offer to meet with them to help them find the success they aspire to.
By setting aside an hour or two per week free from all distractions, you can carefully listen to their story and determine where they need help and guidance. From there, you can advise, counsel, and also provide books, articles, key contacts and other resources that will help them get where they are going, even if they figured out where that is.
Talk about the seven (7) non-negotiables that every employer demands, and then have them do a verbal self-assessment on each. Discuss the value of hard work, sacrifice, and the importance of giving your best to every job they have now, and in the future.
Tell them how you failed before you succeeded, and what you learned in the process. Be real, authentic, and be vulnerable. Then ask them what they’ve learned from the experiences they’ve had, and how they’re going to either repeat or change those behaviors to improve their outcomes.
This Christmas, give a young person your presence – not your presents.
It is a priceless gift that will enrich their life, and yours.
This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.