Getting a summer job: Entrepreneurship for teens

July 3, 2009

diana-furchtgottroth–- Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. –-

It’s July, teen unemployment has risen to 24 percent, and you—or your teenage children—still don’t have a summer job. This is a peculiarly American problem.

In Nepal, according to Hudson Institute research assistant and Nepalese citizen Astha Strestha, “teens just hang around all summer and spend their parents’ money.”

In France, summer vacations are shorter, only 6 weeks, and teens try to stay with relatives outside the city.

In America, summer vacation lasts the better part of three months, and teens work either to earn spending money, contribute to college tuition payments, or simply because they think that they should have a job.

These days summer jobs are less plentiful due to the economy and to increases in the minimum wage.

It’s easier to be employable at a wage of $5.15, the 2006 minimum, than to find someone to hire you at $7.25, the new federal minimum effective on July 24. But just because no one has hired you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t earn money. You can start your own business. If it grows, you can employ friends and siblings, and perhaps keep it going for the rest of the year.

Computer assistance. You may not know it, but you have a comparative advantage in computers. This can be used by helping older adults, who grew up when computers were larger than cars and programming meant putting a pile of cards in a machine. You could help people set up email or social networking accounts, figure out their iPods, build a Web site, organize digital photos on a computer, or construct spreadsheets for bills and expenses.

Tutoring. You may not get straight As in school, but you probably know more about a subject than kids two or three years younger than you. And some of them might want to review material from last year, or get a head start on their classes for next year. Even more likely, parents might think their kids need help. Your slogan can be “Give Your Kids the Best—the Power of Summer Tutoring.”

Bicycle Repair. It’s remarkable how people throw out bicycles that–with a little cleaning, grease and tube repair—can be almost as good as new. Some people have old bikes in their basements that they would like collected, and some cities are even willing to have discarded bicycles removed from their dump. With the help of a bike repair manual you can mend them and sell them on Craigslist.

Yard Service and Car Maintenance. What people value most is their time, and some don’t want to spend their time mowing their lawn, weeding, or washing their cars. In suburbia there are endless opportunities which can carry over into the school year with leaf clearing and snow shoveling.

Summer Camp. One step up from babysitting is setting up informal week-long summer camps for small groups of neighborhood children. The themes could be sports, arts and crafts, reading and writing—wherever your skills may lie. In order to start a business, you need enthusiasm for a publicity drive through word of mouth; flyers through neighbors’ doors; notices with tear-off telephone numbers at grocery stores, houses of worship, community centers, and libraries; or internet sites, such as your Facebook page and Craigslist.

The object is to let everyone know that you’re available. Since businesses generally spread through word of mouth, you could ask the first few clients to act as references, perhaps even giving them a discount to do so. Valuable references and good will are some of the best assets your young company can have. That means always being courteous and cleanly-dressed.

Pricing can be a challenge. Until you find the right price, you might want to ask your clients to pick the price—“pay me whatever you like to mow this lawn”—so that people don’t think that you’re out to exploit them. In some cases, your clients might pay you more than you would have dared to charge on your own.

Just as large businesses collect information about potential customers, you want to keep a good database of your clients by recording names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses.

Then, if business is a little slow, or if you go on vacation and return to town, you can call your clients and politely ask if they need your services. The advantages of starting your own business are numerous. You work for yourself, not a boss. You set your own hours. You don’t have to put up with cranky co-workers. If you’re not interacting with your clients, you can dress as you choose: no one cares if you build a website in your pajamas.

On the other hand, entrepreneurship is unpredictable and has its ups and downs. You might need several tries to get clients. One teen I know intended to spend his summer tutoring full-time and fixing bicycles on the side, yet ended up fixing bicycles full-time and tutoring on the side, since he had more bike customers than students.

Teens, there’s a job out there for you. You just have to go out and make it.


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Mrs. Roth, Wonderful article. Congratulations!

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

While it’s certainly tough out there for students, a bad economy can help to encourage teens to take alternate paths during summer months that can really bolster their resumes for job searches in the future and college admissions: volunteering, job shadowing, and interning. Colleges and future employers will appreciate the job skills acquired, while teens may get the opportunity to interact with people or in situations that they may not usually be exposed to–always a learning opportunity!
Here’s a great article from about how volunteering can set students on the right path towards a career they want: arch-essentials/entry-level-jobs/volunte er-work/Volunteer-for-Your-Career/home.a spx
A great resource to direct your teen to is the resume tips tab on the Office Live Students Facebook Page. It has advice on resumes, job searches, networking, interviewing, and career planning: t#/officelivestudent?v=app_7146470109&vi ewas=7300773
MSFT Office Live Outreach Team

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive