I read and interesting article in the New York Times today on how less and less males are learning to work. Part of this apparently is due to an increase in school attendance and child care (yeah!) but most of it is not. Many of our young men simply don't work anymore. And that is a problem. The article can be found here.
Part of the reason I created a small business that employs teens is to address this exact issue that I began to notice about 4 years ago. Many of my students (regardless of gender) no longer have jobs and as a result do not know how to work in a professional environment around adults any longer. The interesting thing is that this is not confined solely to my high income students. It crosses all socio-economic divides.
My high income students often go off and get a 4 year degree (and the debt that goes along with it) and have never ever had a single job prior to graduation from high school or college. Many of them have sports, school, and a variety of other activities that are barriers to them having a job. It's hard to get a job when your gym coach ask for 110% commitment and several thousand dollars worth of fees. The result is that these kids often have no clue how to problem solve, work around older adults, and are really bad at receiving constructive feed back. They often don't know how to make a personal phone call and unless given a task with explicit instructions, they don't know what to do. They need work to learn some wherewithal.
My low income students often struggle to even find work (not that this is easy for my well of students these days!). Their issue is that they lack the home stability and therefore the consistency to maintain a job. They often need a job to help with basic financial needs, but also so that they can start to think about what they would like to do with life. They often have amazing street smarts and savyness, but because of their appearance or speech cannot get the employment they need. Let me share with you an example of this.
A week ago a male student of mine had a blowout with his family. He had sort of reached the end of his rope and decided that the needed to get out of the house before he lost it. It was a wise choice. He decided to go to his cousin's house to get away. The only problem was that the cousin was 95 miles away in another city and he has no car or license at 18 years of age because his parents can't pay the fees to get him one. So, being the resourceful bugger that he is he rode his bike across the interstate bridge into Portland and figured out how to make 5 bus connections to get to her town. He figured out the bus routes using a half broken cell phone. It was pretty impressive.
My point is that many of my students and even some adults I know could not have solved that same problem. They would have been overwhelmed and unable to adapt. This student has all the adaptability he needs, but he needs a jobs program to help him learn to be professional in speech and appearance and so he can get some money to survive! Our teens need jobs!
I started trying to do youth ministry through a framework of work and started a for-profit business because I learned tons from the jobs I had growing up. I learned about what I was good at and what I did and did not want to do with my life. I learned leadership from positive examples of supervisors and I learned a ton from adults I observed about who I did not want to become! My theology tells me that each human being is made with an intentionality and purpose. We have gifts and talents that are given to us, but they need to be discovered and honed. We need to unwrap our gifts. Unless our teens learn to work they will not discover these things and we do them a great dis-service. I think many of our churches would benefit from becoming job centers for teens. It's a practical and needed alternative to what we know as typical youth ministry. Our kids need less snacks and couches. They need love, goals, jobs, challenge, and a church that is willing to help address that basic need.