School is out and summer is finally here. Students are excited to have completed another year of school and look forward to the freedom that summer offers.

For many teens, this freedom involves working summer jobs to earn disposable income.

Summer work for teens has been a tradition for Americans for decades. But the number of teens engaged in the workforce has steadily declined over the years.

According to DEED Assistant Director Oriane Casale, only 53.5% of youth ages 16-19 were in the workforce as the end of 2021.

The good news for the 46.5% of teens without jobs, Minnesota’s current tight labor market is providing them with an abundance of opportunities. These jobs are paying higher wages and offering more flexibility than ever before.

Some of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic were service-related ones. Food service, retail sales and hospitality have all seen an outflow of adult job seekers.

With Americans’ appetite for travel and entertain climbing after two years of the pandemic, teens stand poised to step in to fill these gaps. Restaurants, local retail shop owners and entertainment venues are actively recruiting students to handle their summer crowds. They are willing to work around family vacations, sport practices and band practices so that teens can stay engaged in their favorite activities while still working part time.

At Workforce Development Inc. we have a variety of programs aimed at helping youth with barriers to obtain firsthand experience that can only come from your first job.

In Rice and Mower counties we have Workforce Academies where students learn soft skills that employers need, like punctuality, reliability and how to handle conflict in the workplace. After this weeklong training, youths are placed at worksites in the community, like city parks and schools, where they are paid to help with seasonal maintenance.

In all our 10-county area, WDI works with employers that are willing to host youth in work experiences paid by WDI. Our Youth Career Planners place enrolled participants in these work experiences at local business who offer the supervision and workspace, while WDI pays their wages through grant funding.

This is a great partnership that allows youth to build confidence in their abilities while connecting them to their local employers. Many employers hire these youth to continue working once the work experience has ended.

In Olmstead and Rice County, WDI operates a Youthbuild program that enables students at Alternative Learning Centers to obtain course credit and earn an hourly wage for being part of our Youthbuild construction teams. These students build picnic tables, sheds, planter boxes, or whatever need their schools or communities have. This experience gives these students the confidence to pursue trade careers after graduation.

In summary, if you are a teenager or have one in your life, today is a great day to explore work opportunities for this summer. Local businesses are eager to talk with you about their opportunities.

If you would like help with your job search or want to hear more about the WDI programs listed above, drop us a line at 800-543-5627 or hello@wdimn.org.

WDI is a private, nonprofit organization providing employment and training services for both career seekers and employers throughout Southeast Minnesota. WDI has offices in each of the 10 counties in our region: Goodhue, Wabasha, Houston, Fillmore, Olmsted, Freeborn, Mower, Steele, Rice, and Dodge. Please connect with us: www.workforcedevelopmentinc.org.


Michael Postma is the area manager for Workforce Development Inc.

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