Let’s turn jobs for teens into a year-round focus

From Charles Bowman, North Carolina and Charlotte market president for Bank of America:

Last year I wrote the Charlotte Observer to call attention to the need for Charlotte’s business community to come together and place an emphasis on supporting summer jobs for teens. This effort is critical because Charlotte’s future economy, stability and growth depend on an educated, talented and experienced workforce.

Despite gains in the overall U.S. job market, teens nationally – and here in Charlotte – have faced an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent in both June and July of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a sign that many teens looking for summer work just aren’t finding it, and more can still be done to address the need.

As we mark the beginning of school and summer positions give way to the classroom, I had a chance to listen to five Charlotte-area teens recap their experience in our Student Leaders program. I was quickly reminded of the impact that these types of internships have in the lives of our youth and the voice they develop realizing the influence they can have in their community. Through an eight-week internship with the YWCA and Freedom School Partners, they learned how a non-profit works as they led programming at local youth centers around the city. They also picked-up the fundamentals of managing their money and gained experience handling challenging situations in the real world.

Each of these students recognized that while they’ve lived in Charlotte their whole lives, the program expanded their understanding of Charlotte’s geography and the people that make it up. They also saw the challenges the city faces in addressing needs and creating economic opportunities, and they learned what it means to be a community leader. They summarized their experience by pointing out the adage that talent is universal but opportunity is not.

Many businesses and local nonprofits worked together this past summer to provide teens with seasonal jobs and internships, but too few teenagers in Charlotte have such opportunities these days.

Research continues to show that gainfully employed teens have lower dropout rates, are more likely to continue their education toward long-term career goals, and ultimately have a higher lifetime earning potential than their peers without jobs.

We know how important summer jobs are to teaching young people the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive workforce. That’s why we at Bank of America also partner with the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program and provide additional internship opportunities and programming.

Many of us understand the difference having a job has made for ourselves or our own children. We owe it to our young people to support them with job opportunities, work experience and hope for the future.

There’s an ongoing need to make positions available for our youth, and I challenge local businesses to think ahead and make more jobs and internships a reality.