This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris


Jobs today are not like they were a few generations ago. Many Hoosier youth are struggling to find employers who will hire young people, and others find it difficult to develop personal and professional skills needed to acquire and maintain employment.

Molly Hansen, a Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist working at Decatur Central High School, said that adults can be supporters and motivators for youth who are looking for jobs.

Youth Employment: Encouraging Career Exploration“Youth need to feel empowered by parents and teachers to pursue a job,” said Hansen. “As youth supporters we need to help youth find jobs that can fit into their lives and benefit them on multiple levels, not just as something to make some easy money. We need to help youth understand the long-term benefits of obtaining a job.”

The JAG program encourages career exploration and focuses on helping students graduate high school and begin their adult lives on positive, productive paths by teaching them personal, life and employability skills that will “make them the most sought-after graduates for the world of work.”

Hansen works with teens to create resumes, practice interviews and research career opportunities. She also emphasizes professional and personal skills that will help youth find and maintain quality jobs.

“Communication skills are a key,” said Hansen. “Students must be able to communicate with family, schools and their employers to keep track of their schedules. Grit is another key skill students should utilize. I have found that many of my students do a fantastic job of finding a part-time job but struggle to keep the job once they have it. Students need to work on developing professional skills that will help them maintain long-term work. Students also need to demonstrate respect and a willingness to learn new work skills and complete the task at hand.”

Janet Boston is the executive director of Indiana INTERNnet, an organization that encourages employers, schools and students to offer and accept internships. She noted that students should be aware of “timeliness and appropriate behaviors, particularly with technology” and that they “really need to hone what we’re calling the soft skills, particularly written and oral communication.”

Furthermore, Boston mentioned that “employers tell us [that youth] really need to enhance their critical thinking skills…it’s not just absorbing information, but turning that information into meaningful projects.”

Adults can help youth consider multiple factors when making employment decisions.

“The worst thing a youth can do is search for a job based completely on income,” said Hansen. “Youth need to understand where to find a job description and how to read a job description. Jobs can have many other benefits besides the pay, and youth can often turn down beneficial jobs because the pay is not high enough. Students need to also consider their work values, the company, the job tasks and the potential to move up in an organization. Students need to see the bigger picture when job searching and explore what job might fit best into their lives and social environment.”

Boston said that one of her organization’s goals it to help young people “realize it’s not only about career exploration, but also about developing networks and showing evidence that they can take what they learn in a class and apply it to a real-world environment.”

For youth who are currently seeking a job or internship, it is important to remember that developing professional relationships is key to success.

“Always assume that everyone knows everyone,” Hansen said. “Never burn any bridges or leave employment in an unprofessional way. My best advice is to talk to potential employers face to face so they can remember you better, and always bring a resume to leave with an employer. Also, prepare, prepare, prepare for the interview! You never want to walk in to an interview and just ‘wing it.’”

Boston agreed, saying, “Interns or any candidate for a job really need to research that company before they go into an interview…. Particularly once you get that interview, do your research and find out everything you can about that organization and that industry.”

According to Boston, youth should take opportunities to have meaningful conversations in order to build a network of people on which to rely for references and recommendations.

She said, “I think the first thing that anyone should do is do your very best job. Stand out as being a quality employee. Ask if there are things you can do.”

Hansen noted that some youth may not be ready for employment, based on “different family, financial and educational situations.” Adults should advise young people to look at their schedules and workloads realistically.

“A key factor to remember is that, if possible, school needs to take priority,” said Hansen. “I’ve worked with many students who say they can handle school and a job, but then once they are employed their school work and attendance decline. A key to balance is not taking on more hours than you can handle. Students need to identify their strengths and weaknesses in their school work and identify what areas may need more focus on once they take on a job. Students also need to be able to identify when they are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out and if other areas of their lives are lacking due to having a job.”

Boston noted that many kids are burdened by a variety of activities, and she urges parents to help youth prioritize their lives and encourage activities that emphasize career exploration.

“There needs to be balance between the push for athletics and other extracurricular activities and career exploration,” she said, noting that many students are “so over-extended in afterschool activities [that they] never had the opportunity for a job.”

If youth and their guardians feel that employment would be beneficial, the Marion County Commission on Youth, Inc. recommends that teens visitwww.projectindy.net, a tool that connects young people with employers willing to hire them.

Additionally, Indiana INTERNnet, which connects post-secondary education students with internships, is currently piloting a high school-friendly extension of their website to connect employers with educators and teachers running career explorations programs. She hopes that this new element will be available soon.

Lastly, youth are invited to attend Congressman Andre Carson’s Youth Opportunities Fair from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, March 12MCCOY, Inc. serves as a partner for this event.