Teens forgo traditional summer jobs to build careers

Riley Drake is an intern in the immunology lab at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Pikesville High School senior Josh Borris is working this summer, but he won't be paid. Completing a second summer as an intern at Correct Rx Pharmacy Services Inc. in Linthicum Heights, he said, is more valuable than earning money at a traditional summer job.

"I want to one day be a pharmacist researcher figuring out how drugs interact with the human body," he said of his summer work at the institutional pharmacy company. "This internship is an experience for the future."


Even as fewer teens seek to work during the summer, some like Borris are pursuing internships or other experiences they hope will give them a leg up on their intended careers.

"Right now, there is pressure on finding a career," said John A. Challenger, CEO of the employment-consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "People worry that there won't be something for them coming out of school."


But not everyone. Many teenagers simply don't want to work. Only about a million of the 11 million youths between 16 and 19 who were neither employed nor actively seeking work last year wanted a job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rest, according to surveys conducted by the bureau, said they did not want to work.

The percentage of youths in the workforce has declined steadily since 1994, according to the BLS. It hit an all-time low last year and may be headed even lower this summer.

Still, there are jobs for teens — and teens who want to take them. Nearly 1.1 million teens found work last summer, up from 960,000 in 2010, according to the BLS. In a report issued in late April, Challenger projected more would find jobs this summer, even though they face increased competition from older, more experienced applicants, including people in their 20s looking for any kind of work and "retirees who are seeking low-skilled, low-pressure jobs to supplement their retirement income."

Not counted in the data are the teens who win internships. While most internships go to college and graduate school students, some high-schoolers also are in the hunt.

"There may be as many as 2 million interns employed each year," wrote Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning employment think tank in Washington, in a report issued May 23. "Experts agree that the internship phenomenon was growing even before the Great Recession and has accelerated since. Yet, few can provide any information on the impact of internships, paid or unpaid, on the labor market or the wages and employment prospects of young people."

More and more teenagers are intent on filling their resumes with work experience beyond the traditional summer jobs of scooping ice cream and waiting tables, Challenger said.

Riley Drake, a Friends School senior, got an unpaid internship last June at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine through family connections. She still works there on an immunology project, now as a paid intern, developing and testing tumor-targeted antibodies designed to bolster the immune response to infections and cancer.

"I was excited to just be a lab monkey," Drake said, "but I ended up getting to work on my own project. This is valuable because not only am I finding something no one has found before, but I'm learning interpersonal skills, lab skills and how to interact with people older than I am."


Yvette Schein, a senior at Baltimore's Bryn Mawr School, also has used her summers as an opportunity to pursue what interests her: global health.

"For the past three summers I've gone to Tanzania for five weeks," she said. "I help with a public health research project called Partnership for the Rapid Elimination of Trachoma."

Schein's father, Dr. Oliver Schein, professor of opthalmology in the division of cornea, cataract and external diseases at the Hopkins medical school, connected her with the project but doesn't go on the trips with her.

Her first summer, she mostly handed out forms to patients. The past two years, she performed tests on patients with trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eye. This summer she is going to help map how the disease spreads by marking infected homes with a global-positioning system.

"I get to see an entirely different perspective on the world," she said. "This has changed my life."

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have connections like those. Baltimore has developed a program to find real-world work experience for city teenagers called Baltimore City YouthWorks, which finds paying summer jobs for young people between 14 and 21 in the public and private sectors.


The program, which runs from June 25 to Aug. 3, aims to give young people "the chance to put a stamp on what our future workforce will look like," said Brice Freeman, spokesman for the mayor's office of employment development. "We've secured jobs for around 5,000 people this summer."

Jasmine Lane, a senior at the Academy for College and Career Exploration in Baltimore, got a paying job through the program at Veolia Transportation, which provides taxi and other public transportation services in the city. She's worked at the front desk for the company, answering phones, assisting customers, filling out paperwork and taking inventory.

"It's a great program," Lane said. "It really boosts teens' skills and gives teens more experience to put on their resumes. … When you don't have experience, you can't get certain jobs."

Of course, not every teen focuses exclusively on career-oriented experience.

Danielle Moses, a junior at W.E.B. Du Bois High School in Baltimore, who has obtained positions through YouthWorks in the past, wants a paying job at McDonald's or at a hairstyling school this summer.

"I like having my own money, and a job gives me something to do during the summer," she said.


Still, Moses said, in the future she hopes to pursue a summer job or an internship related to her intended career: nursing.

If she does, Moses would be joining what Challenger said is a growing number of teens choosing a career-oriented internship or job.

"Jobs right now," he said, "are auditions for future roles."