Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

More than just a job

5 min read

Harvard program coordinates much-needed summer work for local teens

This summer, like those in the past, many teenagers will spend their school breaks looking for work, but the sad reality is that many won’t find it.

For years, economists, politicians, and community leaders have been sounding the alarm about the growing youth job crisis. The teen unemployment rate is over 20 percent, compared with less than 7 percent for workers of all ages. A recent study by the Brookings Institute found that the percentage of working teens in the United States dropped to just 24 percent percent in 2011, down from 44 percent in 2000. The study also showed that in Greater Boston, only one in three teens held a job.

For many teens, a summer job is more than just a paycheck. It’s a chance to learn how to meet deadlines, be accountable, and contribute to a team. These skills build character and the job experience can put teens on paths to future success. Experts say that holding down a job as a teenager, with the accompanying development of job skills, ultimately translates into higher lifetime earnings.

With such concerns in mind, for more than 15 years Harvard’s Summer Youth Employment Program has been helping local teenagers develop strong work habits, establish networks, and gain motivation and real-world experience, as well as earn a paycheck.

“It’s critically important for Harvard to continue to take a leadership role in the community and help these young people grow, learn workplace skills, and possibly meet a mentor.  For many of us, it was a summer job that established our lifetime trajectory, and we hope that will be the case for these young people,” said Kevin Casey, acting vice president of public affairs and communications at Harvard.  “We’ve made a real difference in past years, and once again we’re really encouraging managers to hire a teen in their department this summer.”

“The summer job program contributes to both our summer hires and to the University,” said Marilyn Hausammann, vice president for human resources at Harvard. “Local teens build skills and gain valuable work experience, and Harvard gains good and cost-effective summer help. And it all contributes to good community relations.”

“The summer job program contributes to both our summer hires and to the University,” said Marilyn Hausammann, vice president for human resources at Harvard. File photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Meaghan Twohig of Boston has participated in the program for the past two summers, working in the University’s recruitment office. “It was a really great experience for me,” she said. “I learned so many things. We had weekly seminars on topics like how to work in a professional environment, how to build a resume, how to interview, how to manage our finances, how to save for college. It was so much more than just a job. I feel like it is one of the most mature summer positions someone can have. The experience really made a difference in my life.”

Idva Cako, who’s returning for her second summer, agreed. “This experience helped prepare me for the real world because I learned how to network, how to dress and act professionally, and I gained valuable work experience,” she said.

Isabel Quintana, the cataloging manager at Harvard Library, and her department have participated in the program for more than seven years. “Our teen workers have such enthusiasm and such an eagerness to do the job — and do it well,” Quintana said. “These are local teens, and so we’re excited to expose them to some of the remarkable libraries that are virtually in their own backyards, and they’re excited because they get to spend time on Harvard’s campus. It’s really a great program.”

Teens take on a variety of hands-on assignments, including office support, library help, writing, and scheduling. The expense for the term (July 7 to Aug. 15) is less than $2,500 (full-time), and the hours and dates may be adjusted to fit a department’s needs and means. The program also supports Harvard staff members in submitting job postings, receiving student resumes, and advising on how to manage high school students.

“We’ve participated in the program for the past two years,” said Timothy Fater of the Kennedy School. It “offers very smart, driven candidates. Each one of them will be ready to jump right in and help, and will be eager to do so and learn. It is a great service to the community too — certainly a worthwhile venture.”

Those on campus looking to hire can call 617-496-7298 or visit the Harvie website and click on Summer Youth Employment Program.

Job placement occurs through Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Cambridge Mayor David Maher’s offices. Public school teenagers looking for employment from Boston can visit the Boston Private Industry Council’s website. The council manages the private-sector component of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Campaign. Teenagers living in Cambridge can apply through the Summer Jobs Campaign.