Finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens

My professional career began at the age of 10 when I joined my older brother in delivering daily newspapers. We would rush home each day after school, wrap about 150 papers in rubber bands or plastic bags , and set off into the neighbor racing to be home in time for dinner at 6:00. Each Sunday morning we would take turns pushing a full shopping cart down the street while the other one “porched” each bulky paper within a step of the door. I seemed to always end up covered in print ink by the time we made it home for hot chocolate and donuts.

And so it went; the Collins boys had jobs (and a jingle in our pockets) throughout our teens.

A new report finds that fewer U.S. teens have such jobs these days, especially since the economic downturn of 2001. In Why Teens Aren’t Finding Jobs, and Why Employers Are Paying the Price, Knowledge@Wharton explains that only 37% of teens had jobs in the Summer of 2006, down from 50% in 1990. The report cites a number of possible reasons for this trend, such as employers finding that immigrant workers can fill the positions that would have traditionally gone to teens and preferences by parents that their teens concentrate on academics rather than diverting time and attention to teen employment.

I don’t find it particularly worrisome that 10-15 percent fewer teens are working these days. With life-expectancy increases and later retirement ages, today’s teens will have plenty years of employment.

Still, I recognize that teens who do not work may miss out on some of the growth and development experiences that come along with early employment. From the report:

“Working as a team, completing tasks and taking responsibility. Kids learn these skills through employment,” says Ian Charner, director of the National Institute for Work and Learning, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit concerned with workforce development. “Can you learn those skills by playing a sport or volunteering at church? Yes, but if you are a volunteer, you don’t necessarily have to show up. A lot of kids don’t or can’t play sports. Employment provides an important opportunity for kids to learn from adults other than their teachers or parents.”

This last point seems like the most critical aspect. With some variety depending on the job, teens who work have a chance to interact with working adults in a business or professional setting. They have a supervisor who (hopefully) gives them feedback on their performance and possibly becomes a mentor. Teen workers can become involved in collaborating with full time workers, laying the foundation for teamwork skills and emotional intelligence that will be so necessary for their future success.

If the forces described in the report remain aligned as they have been in recent years, it’s possible that even fewer teens will be working in the future. That makes me wonder what options society has for giving teens opportunities to learn and practice softer skills that are not found in text books or through standardized testing.

Unfortunately, I do not have the answers. Mentoring comes to mind, and I know that much attention has been devoted to mentoring for at-risk teens. It could be that these programs hold promise for broader use.

How about you? Do you have some ideas for finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens? Are you aware of any potential solutions already being implemented?

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2 Responses to Finding teamwork and collaboration experiences for teens

  1. Interesting points, Blaine. I too deliveried newspapers for several years.

    By the way, have you seen Newsies? A musical version of the newspaper carrier strike in the early 1900’s in NYC, it has several good performances and while it is a glamorized version of the paper carrier, there are many points that hit home.

    On a related tack, I just finished “The Power of Play” by David Elkind and it gets into how the lack of ‘free’ play opportunities is hindering the development of our youth. Too much structured play in the various leagues that are available now. The kids don’t get a chance to wrok out similar aspects of teamwork and problem resolution (that was a foul, not it wasn’t, yes, it was…) that the playgrounds used to provide. Plenty of discussion points in this area of development for our children.

  2. I have heard about Newsies, but not seen it. I’ll watch for it ; sounds like fun!

    Its a pretty common theme to bemoan the loss of the free reign that kids used to have around their neighborhoods. Is it truly a hindrance to development? I would need to read more (perhaps Elkind) to know what the experts are finding.

    From my point of view, I have been fairly impressed with 20-somethings I’ve met lately, and how well prepared they are for collaborating and getting things done as knowledge workers. I know the soccer-mom syndrome has been around at 15 – 20 years, so these folks likely had more organized youth activities than free time. Something seems to be filling in the void to allow them to develop despite the lack of free time. (Caveat: my circles bring me into contact with those who are highly educated and my not be a good cross-section of American society.)

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