Youth employment experts: It’s hard to find jobs for 14- and 15-year-olds

This article was originally published by By Jay Waagmeester on The Gazette on Jul, 2023.

Despite the recent law passed by the Iowa Legislature to eliminate some child labor restrictions, Iowa youth employment service providers say they have a harder time placing 14- and 15-year-old Iowans in jobs.

“That’s definitely the area that’s hurting for our program as well, finding businesses and organizations to keep our 14- and 15-year-olds busy,” said Jason Vang, youth program coordinator for the Evelyn K. Davis Center, a program to help 14- to 24-year-old central Iowans realize educational and job dreams.

Vang participated in a youth employment panel hosted by the Greater Des Moines Partnership last Thursday, along with youth employment service providers from MercyOne, Urban Dreams, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG). The agencies serve as the connecting link between young Iowans and employers looking to hire.

Employers hesitate to hire youth

Allyson Vukovich, vice president of programs and employer engagement with iJAG, said not all employers see it in their best interest to hire young people, despite the recent legislation.

“Some of the changes have made it easier to get our kids into employment,” Vukovich said. “But we also have to realize that when we’re working with employers, we need to make sure that we’re meeting their needs. So you know, even the younger kids that can move into work, there may be employers that are not ready to have them yet, and we want to set both sides up for success.”

The law, Senate File 542, loosened restrictions on youth employment, including industries they can work in and the number of hours youth can work.

“It’s a benefit for the students, I believe, because right after school, a lot of them are doing extracurriculars, so that extracurricular could be the barrier between them working and not working after their extracurriculars,” Vang said. “So now they can work a little bit later ’til 9 rather than 7 p.m., that might give them more opportunities to get more hours.”

Transportation, workplace preparation cited

Panelists said transportation is a barrier for youth employment. With much of Iowa being rural, public transportation is not available in much of the state. Iowans without a driver’s license may struggle to get to work, especially if their parents are working.

Another issue raised was workplace readiness. Some employers may be hesitant to hire young Iowans because of a lack of understanding of workplace etiquette, responsibility and communication skills, panelists said.

Dwight Jackson, associate executive director with Urban Dreams, a nonprofit organization looking to uplift underserved and underrepresented people, said one of his duties is to assist kids to be prepared for the workplace and understand the expectations that come with having a job.

“Preparing the students for the workplace, because a lot of them have not had the benefit of having that opportunity of being exposed to work, so they don’t have the skills,” Jackson said.

“We never have enough jobs for the amount of students that are interested,” he added.

Kylie Rinehart, workforce program partner for MercyOne, said career exploration is important to fill positions in industries like health care but credentialed, patient-focused jobs like a certified nursing assistant or patient care technician cannot start before age 16.

Benefits include poverty reduction

Panelists advocated for allowing young Iowans to enter the “pipeline,” letting them to gain work experience and see if a job is right for them, or to open the door to a career with a specific company or industry at a young age.

“We know that if we can get kids to employment and a livable wage, this is a poverty reduction strategy,” Vukovich said. “What we can do for our students and our community every day when we are engaging with our students and building their self-confidence and their skills, we can change the trajectory of their lives, their family’s lives, their children’s lives.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch.


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