It’s actually time for employers to think about summer jobs

As employers adapt to new era of work, summer youth employment must be part of it

CULTURAL NORMS ARE being uprooted due to the pandemic and movements born: the Great Resignation, Great Reset, Great Rethink, and so on. What’s consistent among them is the suggestion that our views on life and work are fundamentally shifting.  

A recent Gartner survey found nearly 2 in 3 workers agreed with statements that the pandemic altered their attitudes toward the value of aspects outside work, made them rethink the place that work should have in their lives, and made them long for a bigger change in their lives. 

The findings underline that workers are seeking greater purpose and meaning in their jobs, aligned with their values. Similarly, workers are expecting more from their jobs: flexibility, inclusivity, and work-life balance are the fastest growing priorities, according to a LinkedIn survey. 

As individuals lean into their core needs and higher aspirations, the future of work, naturally, is transforming along with it. This presents an incredible opportunity for employers to help shape that future by creating pipelines of diverse talent.  

A logical jumping off point is to focus on how employers attract and retain talent through creative summer youth employment programs. Internships, apprenticeships, fellowships, co-ops, and all manner of similar opportunities for high school and college-aged students have proven to drive successful outcomes for business as well as workplace culture as noted in Success Through Diversity: Why the Most Inclusive Companies Will Win by Carol Fulp.  

The time is right now. National data show that labor force activity for youth continues at a steady decline that began in the late 1990s and the current workforce is exploring new options for employment. Concerted efforts through smart public and private partnerships among business and government leaders can capitalize on this special moment in time to foster a new generation of business leaders who are energized to create more equitable, environmentally sustainable and socially conscious products, services and opportunities for their customers and community. Summer jobs provide a platform for exploration to both students and businesses.  

Fifteen years ago, then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino realized this great potential for his city and called upon leading partners to invest in youth employment to build the successful MLK Scholars model, which is still in active participation. Boston University, Massachusetts General Brigham, The Boston Globe, and John Hancock steward this model of summer employment, placing more than 600 young people in jobs and life skills development programs every year. Since its inception, over 6,000 Boston youth have been introduced to these opportunities and have provided themselves and their families additional pathways out of poverty; businesses opportunities for growth; and a workforce economy reflective of the city’s neighborhoods. As this summer comes to a close, now is the time for businesses to start thinking about investing in summer youth employment opportunities for 2023. 

Most MLK Scholars work at local non-profit organizations, strengthening their community ties and gaining hands-on professional leadership experience. Meanwhile, the program’s nonprofit partners receive increased capacity and support to serve more in need throughout the summer months. The model has been so successful that it has grown into the largest, most comprehensive summer jobs program of its kind in the country since its launch in 2008. 

A key to the program’s lasting success is how we get it done together. John Hancock’s MLK Scholars program and Boston’s Private Industry Council both work closely with key players to leverage our sectors’ respective strengths. By providing Boston students with opportunities to earn paychecks and pairing them with skills-based teachings, we invest in young people’s futures, our talent pipelines, and the communities where we live and work. Everyone wins. 

A strong majority of outgoing Scholars report that the program’s employment and education pillars helped prepare them to manage their money and grew their confidence. They enter the program with big financial goals – their top priorities include avoiding debt, paying for education, and investing to build wealth – and months later they’re better equipped with the core knowledge and skills to accomplish all three.  

By investing in young people during their formative years, we also invest in the future of work and society.  

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
There’s staying power to the current movement to revolutionize work. But the window for reform won’t last forever. Let’s act fast and give summer jobs their long-overdue place in how we think about supporting careers, lives, and communities, precisely at a time when society is calling for change. 

Annie Duong-Turner is director of community investment at John Hancock. Josh Bruno is director of employer engagement at the Boston Private Industry Council.