As you probably know, I believe that academic success and leadership positions are overrated as tools that help students move from school to full time work. Of course these successes are nice features to have in your toolkit. But, we all know many successful professionals who were C students and never led a club or a team during any of their high school or college years. So, what does matter in the toolkit of young adult? IMHO, the most important features of a successful young adult job applicant are: self-awareness, teamwork, organizational skills and the willingness to seek out mentoring and be managed by a boss. Develop these areas starting at a young age and you are likely to have a successful transition to paid employment later in life.
Kids need to experience work.
But, how do you get them there? Parents: start young — assigning household chores will start to build your child’s tolerance for the pacing when they enter the workforce. Slowly have them graduate from chores to ever more challenging neighborhood jobs.
But first, help them practice Self-Awareness as they try out jobs with a close neighbor or family friend. Ask them to brainstorm, “what skills do I have?” “what do I like doing?” “Why do I like doing that?” Often they will select pet sitting, babysitting, snow shoveling and yard work – help them to explore why they enjoy these tasks and maybe even relate these tasks to a few parallel adult careers like pet sitting might lead to vet tech or hotel management or being a fundraiser at the zoo. Baby sitting might lead to teacher or child psychologist. Shoveling and yard work might lead to owning a landscaping business or becoming a plant scientist or construction supervisor or civil engineer.
Second, help them master Organization: Before they start their job, have them create a Task List that they regularly review with a list of the steps they should always follow in order to be a success in their job (example: always double check that you locked the door when you finish dog sitting). This list should be thorough, clear, ordered in proper sequence.
Additionally this list should contain 3-4 steps where they experience Teamwork with you as their “team member” so they consciously practice having good communication. Example of a teamwork-oriented step: “Work with (Mom, Dad, My Sitter, My Older Sibling) to get a ride to my job. Request a ride early!” or “Work with (family member/sitter) to help me to remember where I will keep my copy of the pet owner’s key. ”
Finally, when they have perfected their Task List, have them share the list with the person who has hired them and request feedback. This step promotes a relationship of Mentoring and allows the person employing them to Act Like A Boss, showing them improvements and specific ways they like tasks to be done and then setting the stage for the employer to correct the child if it is not done properly. (Clue the neighbor/family friend in if you can, so they understand the role they will be playing with your child).
To be successful and happy in full time work later on, most young people need to have practiced the separate rhythm of work beginning at a young age. They need to experience progressively more complicated jobs in many settings as a tween and teen before they can transition successfully into a full time job in the workforce. Patiently helping them learn from you and then giving them a step-by-step path to begin learning from outside employers will solidify their ability to work effectively at the entry level, both by themselves and in groups, while reporting to a demanding manager.