High School graduations are being celebrated across the region this week as the current school year has drawn to a close. Students will now shift gears and begin to focus on what the next chapter of their life will look like.
Many of them will have completed their educational journey and will head straight for the workforce. Others will prepare for the next phase of their school journey, choosing to pursue college, technical, or trade opportunities.
I remember those days fondly. I couldn’t wait to enter the workforce and earn some hard-earned money to buy me the things I needed and to help me through the next school year. I would never have made it through college without those summers of work.
I labored in a lot of different positions. I cleaned the meat room at the grocery store, clerked, stocked shelves, mowed grass, worked on the factory floor, and in hospitality. You name it, I feel like I tried it. I was fortunate to have several employers offer me an opportunity and boy did I take advantage. And I learned a lot of lessons along the way.
I especially enjoyed my time working in retail. Customer service is such an important skill and retail work prepares you for almost any situation you might encounter in the workforce. Some of those roles are more glamorous than others, but all are necessary for the success of the business. I know many employers today that will give the edge to a candidate that worked retail because of those past work experiences and those lessons learned.
I also learned valuable lessons about working with others, about my team and company relying on me and me on others. I was able to get a lot of responsibility at a young age and learn about managing and supervising people. Those summers helped me better understand what I might want and not want to do when I grew up.
My story is not unlike yours or so many others from years ago. It was a regular thing for high school and college students to enter the workforce, and employers relied heavily on the infusion of that workforce each year as they prepared for a busy summer rush. Restaurants, retail, and hospitality businesses especially leaned on those young workers.
Things have changed significantly since then. Fewer high school and college students are working. Sports, education, and other extra-curricular activities have taken attention away from work and led to a smaller labor pool to pick from for needy employers.
Employers are hoping that will shift back again soon and that they will again be able to rely on a younger labor force to help them through those busy months. Currently, in St. Joseph County, the two largest parts of our population are in the 15-19 and 20-24 age ranges, representing over 15% of our total population.
With 134,713 jobs in St. Joseph County and 528,677 jobs in St. Joseph County Labor shed, young people will be relied on heavily to help fill needed roles.
If you are a parent, encourage your son or daughter to work. No matter the position, this work experience will help prepare them for future success in whatever career path they decide on. And encourage them to stick with it. Summer work can be hard, but worth it in the end.
If you are a student, this time is valuable for you, maybe as valuable as the time you spend in the classroom. Employers of course want to make sure you have the book smarts, but as important as how you fit in with the team, your work ethic, your reliability, and dependability.
If you are an employer, give those young people an opportunity. Train them, develop them, help give them the skills necessary for future success in the workforce.