The recession has been particularly brutal for those without a college education. The unemployment rate for teenagers is more than double the rate for older workers. Of course, the best bet for high school students in the long run is to get some college experience. But teens can dramatically improve their shot at a job by getting training in high school.
With the unemployment rate above 10 percent in some places, teenagers must feel like they're standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. They can just barely see jobs on the other side, but they can't get there.
In times like these, "the less educated tend to get pushed out of the labor market," says Joe McLaughlin, a senior research associate with the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.
High Unemployment Rates
McLaughlin says unemployment rates for high school graduates have been plunging since the 2001 recession, and this year the drop is particularly steep: "This recession has hit them hard, and is going to make their bleak prospects even worse."
And that's what you hear from people around the country who are trying to help young people find work.
The Mile High Youth Corps tries to find construction and conservation jobs for young workers around Denver. Executive Director Kelly Causey says even in a good year she has too few jobs for her teen applicants, even if they have a high school diploma. "And where we typically had three or four applications for every one opening, this summer we've had seven to eight for every one of those applications," she says.
What kinds of things can help high school graduates find a job?
At the Sollers Point Technical High School on the edge of Baltimore, instructor Jack Sheehe says culinary students know everything they will need to be commercial cooks. "One of my kids just got a job working with Marriott starting at $10 something an hour," he says.
Studies show that kids who work in well-planned vocational programs have a much better chance of finding work. Some technical schools suffer from image problems, as a place for students who aren't necessarily college material. But Sollers Point has taken its mission and run with it. Kids must pass admissions tests to enter Sollers Point and show that they are strong students. They keep their ties to their traditional high school and get a regular diploma, along with whatever certification they earn here.
Principal Diane Young hopes all these students will continue to college at some point. But, she says, her school ensures they will have something that college doesn't always provide: "And I've met so many young people nowadays who have a four-year college degree, and they end up going back to the community college, because that college will teach them a marketable skill."
Steering Clear Of Flipping Burgers
Or, here's another way of putting it: "McDonald's can only hire so many people," says senior Stewart Majerowicz. He started at Sollers Point because he knew he would have to work his way through college, and he didn't want to do it flipping burgers.
Until recently, he had been working at Middle River Aircraft Systems, making parts for 747s, as part of his engineering curriculum. This job has not only schooled him in the real world of work — it has prepared him for downturns. He just got laid off there, but he's optimistic he'll be hired back, once things pick up.
At Sollers Point, if students can't find another position, they'll take extra classes at a local community college. The point is to keep building up their toolbox — their list of real-world skills. So whether or not they finally get a bachelors degree, they'll have something to show employers who are generally skeptical when young people walk in the door.