Jeff Selingo is right: Too few college students hold a significant part-time job before graduation. As a result, they struggle with professionalism in the work place. Selingo reports that “the number of teenagers who have some sort of job while in school has dropped from nearly 40 percent in 1990 to just 20 percent today, an all-time low since the United States started keeping track in 1948.”
Why aren’t more students working? Reasons include a poor labor market for teens and the fact that minimum wage earnings don’t go far relative to escalating college prices (tuition, fees, textbooks, etc.). Many students decide it’s better (or easier) to take out loans and focus on getting good grades.
But as I explain in Beating the College Debt Trap, straight A’s don’t make up for lack of work experience. Moreover, if students leverage their skills, and practice resourcefulness and creativity, above minimum wage work is available (see Traps 6 & 7). And as Selingo observes, the value of a part-time job for a college student extends far beyond the pay check:
A job teaches young people how to see a rhythm to the day, especially the types of routine work teenagers tend to get. It’s where they learn the importance of showing up on time, keeping to a schedule, completing a list of tasks, and being accountable to a manager who might give them their first dose of negative feedback so they finally realize they’re not as great as their teachers, parents, and college acceptance letters have led them to believe.
Working part-time while going to school also improves self-awareness. The employers I interviewed said that today’s college graduates are willing to work hard to get the job done. But all of them had stories about the behaviors they found unacceptable: young employees checking Facebook incessantly on their computers, leaving in the middle of a team project meeting to go for a workout at the gym, or asking for a do-over when an assignment went awry.
It’s not just about landing that “one internship” in the area of a student’s academic major (important as that is). Read the rest of Selingo’s article, or check out his forthcoming book (or mine, particularly the latter chapters).