Preparing Teens for the Workforce

teenjobinterview2In several recent surveys, employers have complained that entry-level workers lack the necessary skills needed for success in the workforce. Employers feel it is “very important” that high school graduates possess a strong work ethic and feeling of responsibility, good communication skills, the ability to work in a team, and good problem solving skills. However, many of today’s graduates and entry-level workers do not have these very basic skill sets.

Traditionally, many young people developed workplace readiness skills through actual work experience, such as the family business, paper route, or summer job. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not as common for young people today. The employment-to-population ratio for teens of both genders is the lowest ever recorded in post-World War II history. Teens are not getting the experience they need, and as a result, are becoming unmarketable in today’s tight employment pool.

Parents should be aware of the types of skills that employers are looking for and work to ensure their teenagers learn them. Ways that teens can learn these valuable workplace skills are: obtaining a part-time job; volunteering consistently at a local nonprofit; taking a work readiness course in high school or at a community college, if available; finding a nonprofit or youth center that offers work readiness lessons; or learning these skills at home with their parents. The types of skills employers desire are:


According to a 2010 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, good communication skills were ranked first among a job candidate’s “must-have” skills and qualities. One of the challenges in the workplace is learning the specific communication styles of others and how and when to share your ideas or concerns. Employers are seeking youth that can properly follow directions, speak so others can understand them, actively listen, read with understanding, ask for clarification when needed, and convey their ideas and opinions in respectful ways. For example, an employer is more impressed with an employee who makes good eye contact, nods while listening, and fully answers a question, than with an employee who looks at the ground, slouches and crosses their arms, and responds with one-word answers (such as yeah…nah…dunno).

Positive Work Ethic and Responsibility

Businesses value employees who are motivated to accomplish their tasks, follow-through on projects, abide by workplace policies, and demonstrate honesty and reliability. You might hear an employer say they are looking for someone with enthusiasm or a positive attitude, because they believe this type of person will complete assigned tasks in an upbeat and cooperative manner, be willing to learn and try new things, work well with others, and take the initiative to offer help to customers. In fact, many employers would rather provide job skills training to an enthusiastic but inexperienced worker than hire someone with perfect qualifications but a less-than-positive attitude.


Businesses want employees who work well with other people, contribute to groups with ideas and effort, can come to a decision with the group, and build relationships. Part of working well in a team is having a cooperative spirit, a healthy respect for different opinions and individuality, and an understanding that not every player on the team will have the primary role in leading the effort. Even when certain employees end up with tasks that were not their first choices, jobs should get done with limited complaints because it is in the spirit of teamwork and with the overall goal in mind. When everyone in the workplace works together to accomplish goals, everyone benefits and achieves more.


Businesses highly value professionalism in their workforce. A professional employee arrives on time for work (and returns from breaks on time), dresses appropriately, looks neat and clean, takes responsibility for their own behavior, and uses language and manners that are suitable for the workplace. If they are in customer service, the employee addresses customer needs and provides helpful, courteous service. Professional employees manage their time effectively by organizing and implementing a productive plan of action to get tasks done. A professional employee will use the Internet appropriately for work, not to check Facebook, play games, or look up where they are going this weekend. Finally, professionalism demands that the employee is aware of diversity and works well with all customers and coworkers, regardless of differences.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is inevitable in the workplace and really can’t be avoided. Employers want youth that are able to negotiate solutions to interpersonal and workplace issues. Diplomacy and courtesy to coworkers and customers is expected. Ignored or unresolved conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment or create withdrawal. Businesses desire their staff to be able to pick their battles, but address conflict directly, when needed. A supervisor will most appreciate employees that try to understand the other person’s perspective and negotiate conflicts in a way that will help the other person best achieve their goals. Employers like someone who can listen to someone else’s differing viewpoint, avoid attacking the person or placing blame, ask the right kind of questions to get to the issue, and offer creative solutions.

Problem Solving

Employers want youth to be able to work through problems on their own. Ideal employees can think critically and creatively, contribute ideas, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment, and make decisions. Employers expect their employees to be able to use mathematical reasoning to accomplish their tasks and to be able to determine the best type of information technology to use in their work. Ideally, an employee should be able to understand his or her role in fulfilling the mission of the workplace. Problem solving skills are learned with practice. Parents can instill good problem solving skills in their teens at home. Read our previous blog, Teaching Problem Solving Skills, to find out how.

Final Thoughts…

If teens are not able to get work experience through a part-time job, parents should review the list above of “soft” skills that employers desire with their teen. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor offers information and lessons on many of the “soft” skills needed in the workplace. Visit their website to learn more:

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