Teens and the Job game

Interview with Beverly Slomka author of
Teens and the Job Game

1. Your book is aimed at the 13-18 age bracket. We have quite a few members in that group. What sort of preparation skills are available to people of that age group, and what do they need?

Teens in the 13-18 age bracket are in their 'workplace' of today, which is school. Teens in this age range are getting a sense of the workplace because they have to study, do homework, and be otherwise responsible to be a good student. All of this begins to prepare them for the real world. To the extent that teens focus on their studies and take responsibility they are preparing themselves for the workplace. However, what teens need today is to understand the importance of preparing their 'whole person' for the workplace. While education and good grades are vitally important to succeed in the future, employers today look for education, skills, and a 'put together' personality - a polished work image. This image doesn't just happen when one goes on a job interview, but it has to be molded. Teens in this age group need guidance on how to be professional, ethical and responsible individuals.

2. Your book places emphasis on personal development. Can you outline what you mean by that and how it fits in to employment?

Just as personal development is necessary to form good relationships in life, personal development is critical in the workplace since the workplace is full of relationships. When you are in the workplace, you are relating to your managers and colleagues every day, and how you relate to them can affect how you develop in your job and in the workplace as a whole. A successful worker who has developed confidence will deal appropriately and effectively with others. This, in turn, will lead to productivity and success.

3. Nobody ever said being young was easy. What's the toughest part of being a teen in the job market?

Being a teen in the job market has its challenges. First of all, teens are either looking for their first job, or have minimal experience. Employers are aware of this and sometimes don't want hire teens. The hardest thing for a teen to hear is that 'We need someone with experience.' Teens may wonder, 'How will I ever get experience if no one will take a chance and hire me?' My answer to teens is to never give up trying, because someone will hire you. If teens get into their 'work image' - approach an employer professionally, have a resume, and know how to communicate their skills, employers will sit up and take notice and hire those teens.

4. Communication skills seem to be a major issue. Employers say teens lack workplace level communication skills. Why is that, and what can be done about it?

I believe the answer is twofold. First, I believe schools need to place greater emphasis on the development of verbal and written communication skills. There is so much that schools need to cram into the school year, that real focus on these 'softer' skills often gets left behind. Compounding this, teens today are into things like text messaging which essentially shortens communication and does not allow real, meaningful discussion in the written form. Teachers and guidance staff need to understand that communication, in both verbal and written form, is a vital part of their students' future in the workplace. You cannot succeed, let alone get through a job interview, if you aren't prepared to verbally discuss your background and goals. You cannot succeed if you can't write important communications to colleagues and managers. So, teachers, and parents too, need to work with teens to help them form appropriate communication skills.

5. Another problem which was identified as applying specifically to teens was lack of workplace ethic. What are the problems?

The lack of workplace ethic relates to the issue of how parents and teachers are molding their young people. I believe somehow parents and teachers have lost sight of the basics. Forty years ago, you wouldn't dream of being late for work, or not calling in sick, or not finishing your work, or finishing it with a lot of mistakes. Today, managers complain that young workers have to be 'trained' to act appropriately at work. Many teens don't know how to dress for an interview or on the job, and can't get to work on time. Parents and educators today have an important mission to mold and train teens, so that they will go into the workplace with the appropriate work ethic.

6. Youth culture is usually blamed for teens' lack of a good fit in the workplace. Is that fair criticism, or superficial.

Every generation has had a 'youth culture'. I would not blame this culture completely on the lack of a good fit in the workplace. As in the issue of workplace ethic, it comes down to adequate guidance and development throughout the teenage years. Teens can be part of the youth culture of the day, as long as they leave that particular part of their lifestyle at home when they go to the workplace. Certainly, if a teen is unduly influenced by peers who do drugs, and do other, unseemly things, he or she will probably never make it in the workplace. However, the teen who is 'with it', but responsible, can do just as well as a part-time waitress in a local eatery, as an older worker.

7. One impression it's easy to get from teens' job applications is that they're expected to learn as they go. Another is that they're always trying to hit a moving target as the employment culture changes. What's the best way for teens to find out what's needed in a career or job?

Teens have to be persistent in their research about careers and jobs. It's easy for a teen, who is not quite a mature adult yet, to think about a certain career, but not fully understand what it takes to get to that career or succeed in it. I emphasize in my book the need for teens to thoroughly investigate their career interest. Sometimes it's even difficult to choose a career going into college. Some change careers halfway through college. I emphasize that that can be okay. People even change careers in mid-life. However, teens should use every conceivable resource to study their career interest(s). That means searching the internet for information, and maybe even contacting employers in that field to discuss what it really takes to be in that career. It may mean doing volunteer work in that field, or seeking out an internship. Whatever it is, teens need to ask a lot of questions and try to get a real sense of their future career.

8. Are the education and employment systems failing to provide for teenagers' needs? Should they be finding their own paths, rather than expecting these systems to help them?

Frankly, the educational system should be providing more guidance and personal skill building that teens need. This is why I wrote the book - to give teens a guide. Recent studies by the Society for Human Resource Management in conjunction with three other major organizations found that employers across the U.S. are finding severe deficiencies in all the things discussed thus far: communication skills, workplace ethic, professionalism and accountability. Therefore, something must change. The educational system and employers need to work together to foster the kind of learning and skill building that will ensure the success of young people today, and ultimately the success of organizations as a whole.

9. One of the elements in your book is introspection, looking for answers within oneself. How does that help, and what can be learned?

Before a person can build relationships with others, he or she needs to be 'together'. That is, he or she needs to be in touch with his or her feelings, and hopefully feel good about him or herself. It is from this introspection, as well as thinking about where one is today, and where one wants to be, that leads to one choosing a career, developing positive relationships, and doing all the things that need to be done to begin to move ahead in the right direction. If a person doesn't think about these things, he or she is just operating day-to-day without any clear direction. True introspection can lead one to seek change where it is needed, and to form appropriate goals based on one's natural talents.

10. The postwar expectation that society and economics will naturally provide a future for young people is losing credibility as the modern workplace changes. What should teens be looking for, long term?

The modern workplace has certainly put certain challenges before teens today. In the postwar era, many people worked in one job all their lives. They had job security and a pension. Today, the landscape is completely different. Job security can be elusive in many careers. Pensions have been replaced by 401ks and similar plans that don't necessarily guarantee a steady future income. While teens may not be worried about 401ks at this point in time, they should think about what their chosen career will mean in terms of job security. Long term, they should think about the lifestyle they want to lead and what it will take to get there. They should think about the differences in workplace environments. Government jobs are more secure than private sector jobs. Some private sector jobs are more secure than others. If they want security at all costs, perhaps local, state or federal government careers are areas to look into. Government jobs can encompass all kinds of careers. Teens also need to be aware of job trends. Healthcare is booming. Technology is having a comeback. Some careers are tight now, while others are somewhere in between. Once again, teens must do their research so that they begin to gain an understanding of where they want to be and how they need to get there.