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Summer jobs prepare the next generation [Commentary]

I landed my first summer job when I was 16.

The qualifications were straightforward — possess strong decision-making skills, the ability to negotiate and compromise with colleagues, and the strength to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of withering criticism.

For six weeks during the summer of 1972 I was an umpire. I called Little League baseball and men's fast pitch softball games for teams in Baltimore County. Most of the other umpires were grown men, and I have vivid memories of drowning in my oversized mask and chest protector. Whether it was an easy game to call or a nail-biter, I would not trade the experience for anything. I was employed, learning the fundamentals of managing the money I was making and gaining experience handling challenging situations.

Too few teenagers in Baltimore have such opportunities these days.

Summer jobs are critical. Over the next couple months teens across the country will be looking for work, and these jobs will provide more than just a paycheck. Research shows that gainfully employed teens have lower drop-out rates, are more likely to continue their education toward long-term career goals and ultimately have a higher lifetime earning potential than their peers without jobs.

Despite recent economic growth, however, teens consistently have the highest unemployment rates of any group that the Department of Labor tracks. The unemployment rate for 16 to 19 year olds in the Baltimore metropolitan area stood at 26.7 percent in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent numbers. National numbers aren't much better. The unemployment rate of teens nationwide actually rose to 21 percent in June, up from 19.2 percent the prior month even as the economy is recovering.

In Baltimore, we know how important summer jobs are because they give young people the skills they need to succeed in today's competitive workforce. That's why the Bank of America Charitable Foundation has not only partnered with Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake's office to provide paid jobs for teens as part of the administration's YouthWorks' Hire One Youth initiative, but we have teamed up with organizations like Urban Alliance and Teach for America to support their summer internship programs.

Urban Alliance, a youth development nonprofit, secures paid summer jobs for local high school students, a number of whom are working in our banking centers. And through our Student Leaders program, local high schools students will have the opportunity to work at Teach for America, an organization that trains teachers to work in low-income areas. In addition to gaining valuable work experience, our Student Leaders will attend a week-long leadership summit in Washington, D.C. this month.

It's imperative that companies in Baltimore support programs that hire and train summer interns. Providing financial education, along with a paycheck, is an important strategy to helping young people succeed today and in the future. A summer job provides experiences that impart valuable lessons such as working with adult mentors, developing an understanding of how a business runs, and learning the importance of completing tasks in a timely manner — as others are depending on you. The investment of time and money not only cultivates the next generation of employees, but it helps students grow so they can succeed in the workplace and the broader community.

There were days during my summer umpiring job that were challenging, but I would not have traded them for anything. It helped me learn about responsibility and teamwork and that there were consequences for my actions. It also reinforced the idea that summer was the perfect time to gain experience, build contacts and learn how to manage my earnings.

I remember how elated I was when I received my first paycheck. I rushed to the nearest bank and opened a savings account. I even started putting money away, a habit that I have continued throughout my life. Even when I worked on the boardwalk in New Jersey for a couple of summers, each time I was paid I mailed my father a cashier's check that he deposited into my account. The money I made each summer helped pay for my college education.

But no job was quite like my first, standing behind home plate calling balls and strikes and learning the finer points of responsibility, fairness and commitment to success. Every young adult in our community deserves the same opportunity. It's our responsibility as local employers and leaders to make sure these opportunities exist for the next generation.

David Millman is the Maryland and Baltimore market president for Bank of America. His email is david.millman@baml.com.

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