Harry Styles of the band One Direction worked at a bakery. Beyoncé swept up at her mother’s hair salon. Lady Gaga waited tables. Brad Pitt wore one of those kooky chicken suits and stood outside a restaurant handing out flyers.
Oh, the indignity of the summer job. Lowest on the totem pole, sent on a million errands, never quite knowing what you’re supposed to be doing…and always wishing you were hanging out at the pool instead. When you’re a kid with a summer job, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the value of the experience.
But summer jobs provide lessons in life and necessary ones at that. At best, summer jobs provide valuable skills training, experience in customer service, and content for building a resume. But even when they suck, summer jobs at least build character. They may be humbling, but they give young people a sense of purpose, routine and duty.
Gimme the numbers
Here in North America, we tend to take summer jobs for students for granted. But that could be changing with the demographic tide. A recent TD Economics report revealed that in July 2008, the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15-to-24 was 11%. In July 2009, it was at 16.4%. The rate has since remained in the range of around 14%.
In Europe, the situation is much worse. The unemployment rate for Europeans aged 15-to-24 is 24%. In Italy, it is above 40%. In Spain and Greece, the unemployment rate for this age group is above 50%. According to OECD figures, youth unemployment globally has increased by 30%.
Recently, The Economist magazine looked at figures from the International Labour Organization and the World Bank and estimated that “all told, there are perhaps as many as 290 million 15-to-24 year olds not participating in the labour market – almost a quarter of the world’s youth and a group almost as large as the population of America. More young people are idle than ever before.”
What’s at work here (hint, not the kids)
There are many reasons behind these statistics, including the recent recession, the European debt crisis with its subsequent austerity measures, and a general mismatch between skill sets and job vacancies. More and more older unemployed people and even retirees are taking up part-time jobs and full-time summer jobs normally reserved for the 15-to-24 year olds. There is also the impact of technological advancement: With online shopping and banking, computerized in-store checkouts and outsourced service jobs, there are generally fewer local, entry-level jobs.
Globally, we have more young people hanging around than ever before. We currently have an all-time high of 1.2 billion 15-to-24 year olds in the world and within the next decade, another billion will become of working age. Finding work to employ young minds and keep idle hands busy is a simmering issue now and could easily reach a full boiling point in the next few years unless we do more to address the matter.
The scarring effect
The long-term effect of youth unemployment on a country’s economy is huge. First of all, young people today will enter the full-time workforce with less work experience and less earned income than previous generations. Finding work, any work, will be more competitive. Experts predict that for the first 20 years of this generation’s careers, these young people are more likely to earn less than previous generations did and are more likely to face future periods of unemployment. They call this the ‘scarring effect’ of youth unemployment.
Those lost wages mean this generation will be more likely to delay buying cars, moving out of home, or becoming financially independent until a later age. With lower wages and possible recurrent unemployment over the next 20 years, they are not likely to be big spenders. When a whole generation of people are not increasingly earning and spending, the country’s gross domestic product is affected. TD economists estimate that over the next 18 years, the money that young Canadians have not earned so far will add up to $23 billion in future lost wages, knocking 1.3% off Canada’s GDP.
The social effect is even more worrying. When large populations of young people are unemployed, there are higher rates of crime and violence against women. According to an article in The Guardian newspaper: “Recent events across North Africa and the Middle East highlight this issue, demonstrating the critical link between youth employment prospects and a country’s wider economic prosperity, social cohesion and political stability.”
How you can prepare
So what can you do? If you (a) are in the 15-to-24 age range; (2) have kids in the 15-to-24 age range; or, (3) have kids that will be in that age range within the next 10 years, the best thing you can do is borrow from the Boy Scouts and “be prepared”.
Summer jobs, no matter how menial, are more important than ever to get an early jump on building a resume. Even part-time work will give you a chance to learn new skills, understand how to work with customers and the public, see how businesses operate and most of all, learn how to become a good employee, a good colleague and get an inkling into how to be a good boss.
At the same time, entrepreneurial skills are increasingly valuable. If you can learn how to successfully employ yourself, manage a business and earn a living - maybe even create jobs for others - you will always be able to make your way in the world.
Later in life, you can look back and realize that yes, wearing that chicken suit really did make you see the world from a different perspective. And yes, sweeping up other people’s hair everyday for an entire summer really did motivate you to do well at school so you could become an engineer (or R&B superstar) and never have to sweep hair again.
As Maya Angelou says, “Nothing will work, unless you do.”
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