Give Your High Schooler A Leg Up On A Career: Drop An AP Class And Get A Job

Posted on January 20th, 2015

John HoganCEOTeen Force

I know that your kid is probably going to Stanford. So, this blog is for the rest of you parents. Or, maybe it is for you as well on the very slim chance that your teen doesn’t get accepted on the Farm.

I founded TeenForce, a social enterprise focused on helping youth gain work experience, out of a basic “grumpy old man” observation: Why aren’t kids working like they used to? I originally started the company based on a gut feeling, but, as I researched the business plan and then launched TeenForce, I discovered data and research that supported my inclination:

  • Youth are working with far less frequency than before
  • Jobs are good for kids

Andrew Sum is the leading researcher in the country on youth employment trends. This recent report reminds us that the youth employment rate (16 – 19 year olds) has been declining for 63 years and is at an all-time low of 27%. A majority of that decline occurred between 2000 and 2011. On page 10 of this report we learn that the San Jose area ranks among the bottom 10 cities in the nation, with a youth employment rate of just 19%. In fact, California holds 6 of the bottom 10 regions in the country.

So, who cares? Maybe it isn’t a good idea to work during high school. That is certainly a legitimate concern, and there is data that indicates that too much work has a negative impact on grades. But, the general data and overall youth development studies indicate that work experience adds to the development of caring and responsible youth.

We at TeenForce like the framework used by Project Cornerstone, which demonstrates that youth with a large number of developmental assets have a lower incidence of negative behaviors such as drug use and violence. A look at the listing of those assets, which includes “positive adult relationships” and “community values youth,” will show that many of these assets can be gained through a positive work experience. Andrew Sum’s report also reminds us that youth employment is path-dependent. This means that early work experience is directly linked to a higher likelihood of work in the early twenties.

TeenForce also likes a basic lesson that is learned through work. At a time and in an area where so many of our youth seem to feel privileged, work is very different than school. The law pretty much requires schools to accept and work with every student, no matter how difficult. Not so with employment. TeenForce youth generally crack up when I tell them that work, like a driver’s license, is not a right, it is a privilege.

In closing, I will leave you with this quote from a TeenForce youth who was an outstanding high school student, yet also took time for a summer internship with a tech company. “At first I thought I would take a summer class. But I’m so happy that I took the job instead. Not only did I learn that engineers need to be well rounded with people skills and business skills, but it really helped my college application. Now, I am at MIT, and I have a much clearer focus on the skills I will need to succeed in the workforce.”

If you still think studying is the only job your teen should have, let’s compromise: Ask him or her to review this Department of Labor website to study some of the skills employers will be looking for and pay them $25 when they complete each module!


Does your teen have a job outside of school? Do you think the job is having a positive impact?

If your teen is not currently employed, what are your thoughts on the benefits of teen employment?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.

5 thoughts on “Give Your High Schooler A Leg Up On A Career: Drop An AP Class And Get A Job

  1. Lindsay Smith

    I know school workloads are heavy, but I think taking one less AP class and getting a job is a great idea. The teens who do this will have a leg up on learning the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. They will learn responsibility and team work in a way that is different from what they are able to learn in school. Thank you TeenForce for facilitating this process for so many of our teens!

  2. DHS2014

    We have used TeenForce in the past and have been very pleased with their results. The kids were very enthusiastic and hard working. Both our teens have had jobs, and it was a maturing experience.

    1. John Hogan

      Thanks for supporting TeenForce and our local youth. And, a shout out to Los Gatos Teen Therapy for the great work they are going.
      signed– The Grumpy Old Man

  3. Steve Dang

    Thanks for this article John! It was really helpful and I passed it along to our parents. I think all kids are different and just forging ahead in school in some cases created problems themselves. I hear a lot of our emerging adults graduate from college and have trouble getting into careers with the chief complaint being, “they want experience, but how can I get experience if companies won’t give me a shot?” I now recommend that all of our college students view their internship/work opportunities less for the financial gain, but as part of their education. I think what TeenForce is doing for teenagers is awesome.

  4. Carol Satterlee

    I was at an event the other night when a parent asked a panel of teens their thoughts on the required volunteer hours that high schoolers were required to do and whether they thought it beneficial. To hear their answers was inspiring and lends to the messaging that John’s message above conveys. Responses from the teen panel were a resounding, “Yes it was so valuable!” They found the experience allowed them to work with others in a team environment, to be seen as a valuable contributor, to gain confidence for themselves and an opportunity of real-life experience to explore an area they knew nothing about. They gained skills and insights they could not have learned just in a classroom.

    Colleges, particularly Stanford, look for students who are well-rounded and not just solely focused on academics and “scores”. The university has a holistic view in creating their classes and thus composing them with students they see not only based on what they accomplish in the classroom, but equally so what they are excited and involved to do outside as well. So parents, help and support your students to create that balance during their high school years!

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