As coronavirus lockdowns have weakened the US economy this spring, causing business closures and layoffs, teenagers are particularly hard hit. According to The Wall Street Journal, the teen unemployment rate is the highest it’s been since at least 1948.
Widespread shut-downs in the restaurant and hospitality industries have affected entry-level and low-wage workers, including teenagers who often rely on part-time work to gain experience and get a taste of financial freedom. Summer jobs that teenagers typically fill, such as lifeguard, camp counselor, or golf caddie, have also dried up, and many companies have rescinded their summer internship offers.
In the Journal article, a recruiter suggests that teens act nimbly during this uncertain time: “Be willing to take work that a mother of two can’t take,” she said. “Be flexible with overnight shifts, or doing delivery at the restaurant you used to work at.”
Flexibility and a willingness to explore work possibilities outside of one’s comfort zone are key qualities for teens seeking jobs in 2020. But now could also be a great time to encourage teenagers and young adults to become entrepreneurs. The economic impact of the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders has upended many traditional jobs and industries, paving the way for agile entrepreneurs and creative startups to offer new products and services that people need and want.
Entrepreneur and investor, John Chisholm, says that now is a great time to start a business. The author of Unleash Your Inner Company: Use Passion and Perseverance to Build Your Ideal Business, Chisholm told me in a recent interview that “the pandemic and government-imposed shutdowns have created new human and customer needs. As an entrepreneur, your job is to figure out which needs are the best fits for you and your passions, skills, knowledge, and relationships, where you have natural advantages to satisfy those needs, and also which needs are more likely to be longer-lived rather than short-lived. It is a tough calculation that requires talking to a lot of people, weighing a lot of data, and taking some risk. But the longer you keep asking questions, the clearer the picture will become. It takes both passion and perseverance. It is not easy. But you can do it.”
My teenage daughter, for example, has been passionate about baking for several years now, with a longtime goal of creating a baking business. With many of her activities canceled this spring due to the pandemic, she has had time to build out her business plan, develop a website, and study for and pass the food handler certification exam. Many local coffee shops have reduced or eliminated sales of baked goods over the past several weeks, and neighbors are craving fresh, homemade breads, rolls, muffins, cupcakes, and more. As an entrepreneur, she is able to recognize and satisfy some of this unmet neighborhood demand.
Perhaps the teenagers and young adults in your life have ideas and passions that they could turn into a business right now. Maybe they have time to tinker in the basement on inventing a new product, build a website to sell a product or service, or create and monetize a YouTube channel. Maybe they can offer in-demand services to their neighbors such as starting a babysitting business for local parents who have had their children’s summer camps canceled. It could also be a great time for tweens and teens to learn new skills, such as coding, to help with their own entrepreneurial pursuits or to become more desirable to employers who are looking for workers with technology and programming experience.
T.K. Coleman, FEE’s Director of Entrepreneurial Education, offers advice and inspiration for aspiring young entrepreneurs in his weekly Revolution of One podcast and social media content. Like Chisholm, he also believes that now is a great time for teenagers and young adults to start a business. Coleman says:
If you’re interested in starting a new business, you can find lots of cool ideas simply by paying attention to people’s problems. You may have a shortage of ideas, but there’s never a shortage of people complaining about things. And you can transform those complaints into gold if you can figure out a creative way to make them feel better. If someone complains about how busy they are, that’s an opportunity for you to pitch yourself as a personal assistant who does all the little things that get in the way of the bigger problems they should be focusing on. If someone complains about struggling to get their kids to do homework, that’s an opportunity for you to pitch yourself as a tutor. The opportunities are endless because the problems are endless. The key is not underestimating your ability to make a difference with the knowledge and experience that you already have.
Teenagers, like all of us, need to be flexible and imaginative during this challenging and unpredictable time. Encouraging young people to create their own work that adds value to others can be a powerful way to turn a teen employment sag into a productive and personally meaningful entrepreneurial venture.
Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children. You can sign up for her weekly newsletter on parenting and education here.
Image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash