Is Teenage Labor a Good Thing?

WS - Group Honor RollToday’s guest post is courtesy of our board member David Creelman.  I spoke to David recently about the different types of internship programs we support at Kronos, including our sponsorship of several local high school students through the Cristo Rey Network.  This program has been a win for us, despite our initial concerns that managing a high schooler in the workplace might require more investment than return.  Our concerns were misplaced.  Our high school interns are doing a great job for us.  Read on to learn more about this program.

Would it make sense to have high school students spend four days a week at school and one day working? That’s what happens at Cristo Rey Network, based in Chicago, IL. Cristo Rey has 26 high schools in 25 cities across the U.S. serving mainly low income youth. Their Corporate Work Study program puts students in the workforce one day a week which helps fund their education and build skills. Legally, it is set up as an employee leasing program so that the students are employees of the school not the corporate client.

So that’s cool. Is it a good idea?

Or let’s be more precise: would it be good for your company to participate?

The first question is whether students can afford to take 20% of their time away from school. On the one hand, there never seems enough time to cover all the things we think high schoolers should learn. On the other hand, when I look back on my high school experience it feels like I could have taken 50% of the time off, and not been the worse for wear.

The next questions are whether the time at work is good for the student, and whether having a student is good for the employer. I group these questions together because I suspect they fit hand in glove. Create a value-adding job and both parties benefit; create a make-work job and no one wins.

That the idea can work has been proven by Cristo Rey. And my own stance is that the biggest single weakness in our education system (and this definitely includes universities) is that kids spend 20 years doing nothing but being educated, and then are simply dumped into the workforce. Braiding together the worlds of work and education would, to my mind, benefit both.

If the idea intrigues you, the place to start is probably having HR sit down with whoever runs social responsibility. At that point it becomes a question of how to find which managers have the skills and enthusiasm to find or create value-adding tasks for high schoolers.

So what’s on your mind? What is it that most worries you or most excites you about the prospect of teenage labor?

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