Why Summer Jobs Matter Now More Than Ever

Why Summer Jobs Matter Now More Than Ever
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Why you should care

Because these days, summer jobs are serious business (and can define your career).

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The “summer job” might summon romantic, sepia-tinged visions of simpler times — ice cream parlors, vintage movie theaters, local pools and fruit farms — but today, a summer job is a rather more serious business. According to a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:

BY 2025, 65 PERCENT OF US JOBS WILL REQUIRE SOME SORT OF POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION, TRAINING OR CREDENTIAL, UP FROM 28 PERCENT IN THE 1970s.

Why? Simple: The job market has changed. New fields and technologies are emerging fast. Job requirements are becoming more complex. And, because more people than ever have a college degree — 33.6 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — employers can be pickier, and candidates without a BA need a different skill set to stand out.

And so the summer job, you could say, has lost its innocence. No longer about pocket money and first crushes, it may instead be the key to jump-starting a career, because technical knowledge gained through workplace experience is what’s in demand.

But there’s a problem. Though holding down a summer job now carries new importance, the number of summer jobs available in the US is at an all-time low. A 2015 report commissioned by JPMorgan Chase found the summer employment rate for teens across 15 major US cities had fallen to 34 percent — a 20 percent drop since 1995.

Martin J. Walsh, mayor of Boston — one of the cities surveyed — pointed out just how big an issue this is when he said, “Summer jobs for our teens represent so much more than just a paycheck. They are about giving young people opportunities that can change their lives.”

Following the report, JPMorgan Chase made an announcement: It would invest $17 million in US cities that are actively trying to increase summer work opportunities for teens.

Though this solution is promising, the trend toward favoring candidates with college degrees still looms large.

One early cash injection was a $100,000 grant to the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC). The council runs programs that place high schoolers in training at the likes of the South End Technology Center, then finds them tech-focused summer internships with employers. As well as focusing on more “21st century” skills, PIC targets students from low-income families who lack the kind of opportunities those from wealthier families might have. The JPMorgan Chase money helps subsidize wages in these higher-skilled jobs.

Though this solution is promising, the trend toward favoring candidates with college degrees still looms large. For example: According to a study by labor market analytics company Burning Glass, only 25 percent of insurance clerks currently working have a BA, but 50 percent of new job ads for insurance clerks require one. The good news is that non-BA salaries are also on the rise for those who have invested apprenticeships and other training programs.

Maybe this just reinforces the need for acquiring tangible skills through summer jobs. A 2012 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education found HR departments were less likely to pass on an applicant without a degree if they had skills that otherwise made them a good fit. When it comes to providing opportunities beyond BAs, everyone can do their part, either by creating a summer position for a student, or by encouraging the young people in our lives to apply for seasonal work.

As Linda Rodriguez, head of the Fellowship Initiative and program officer for youth employment at JPMorgan Chase, contends: “Whether they’re working on specific technical skills around industries they are interested in or developing the qualities that make a great leader, summer jobs can put students on a path to success.”