Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer jobs for teens

Summer is the best time for teenagers to take a break from the school environment, and experience the world of work. In North America, junior high and high school students are given the opportunity to learn the value of a hard day's work, through various summer youth employment programs. In Japan, however, youngsters are confined to school club activities and prep schools; otherwise they are left astray and for the most part given money to spend any way they wish.

Kenji, an acquaintance's 16-year-old son, doesn't care about finding a job this summer. "We have bukatsu (club activities) during the summer vacation, and I have no time to work," Kenji innocently said. "Besides, we must go to juku to study for juken because our parents want us to enter a good university."

Kenji doesn't work, but he always has money to go out and have fun with friends. He owns a brand new scooter, a trendy cell phone and an expensive iPod. His mother tries to buy him anything he asks for, even if it means straining her purse. "I've spoiled him," she admitted. "If he could work, it would be a valuable lesson for him because he doesn't know the value of money." Still, she encourages her son to exclusively focus on academics and bukatsu which she believes will propel him to a "stable" civil servant job in the future.

Like Kenji, many Japanese teenagers are missing out on the practical experience of summer youth employment, which undoubtedly imparts confidence in the ability to compete in the permanent job market. I'm not saying that extra schooling and club activities are terrible things, but there should be a balance of studying, working and playing in young adults' lives.
Even if youth employment is not based upon real economic need, I believe it enables teens to mature into productive adults. When young people are exposed to the world of work, they reap a wealth of benefits that remain with them for a lifetime. They learn the value of hard work, personal initiative and self-reliance. They also learn how to carry out instructions, how to collaborate with others effectively in the workplace, and ways to manage time and money. Through summer jobs, earnest teens may even meet career mentors who can provide future job recommendations.

Young people no longer have a career path carved out for them when they leave school. A degree from a "good" university guarantees nobody a job these days, and there's just no such thing as lifelong employment anymore.

To better prepare our children for an ever-changing world, help them reach their potential and deal with whatever life throws at them; we must nurture a culture of creativity and resilience. Now more than ever working-age students need to be exposed to the world of work, and be taught how to think like entrepreneurs. Then, they'll be able to create their own inspiring businesses and community projects, and be more innovative within their careers and society.

Shukan ST: July 17, 2009 . By Joel Assogba (Published in The Japan Times ST)

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