NAF Commentary in Investor’s Business Daily: How High Schoolers Can Boost American Business

Read the full op-ed in Investor’s Business Daily.

How High Schoolers Can Boost American Business

By JD HOYE, 1/22/2018

Employers are struggling to find their ideal workers. Nearly 45% of business executives think Americans lack soft skills like creativity, teamwork, and communication.

Even young people with four-year degrees are unprepared for the working world. Over half of hiring managers say new college graduates lack “critical thinking and problem solving” skills and don’t pay “attention to detail,” according to a recent survey by salary-transparency website PayScale.

This skills gap won’t magically resolve itself. If businesses want higher quality workers, they’ll need to start grooming recruits by offering internships to a largely untapped talent pool — high schoolers.

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Many employers already offer internships to college students. But companies can gain a leg up on their competition by starting these programs even earlier.

Companies that currently offer high school internships have created reliable talent pipelines. In a recent survey of such companies, 45% of respondents said they were “very likely” or “completely likely” to offer their high school interns full-time jobs down the line.

It’s easy to see why. Despite their youth and perceived inexperience, high schoolers make firms more innovative. Nearly a quarter of business leaders say high school interns help them think of fresh ideas.

“(Students) don’t have any preconceived notions of what you can and can’t do, and that’s invaluable for a company like Verizon,” explains David Bilodeau, a senior member of Verizon’s technical staff. Verizon gets its investment in students back “tenfold,” Bilodeau asserts.

I’ve seen firsthand how these young workers benefit businesses. My organization helps high school students find and prepare for internships at top brands like Verizon, Capital One, and Marriott.

Our students aren’t just scanning and storing documents. They’re programming robots, planning events, and presenting cost-reduction strategies.

By the end of their programs, interns confidently cold call potential clients and run social media accounts. These internships create immense value for companies — and help high schoolers hone their soft skills.

Hiring high school interns also helps firms solve another major staffing challenge — namely, a lack of diversity. Black and Hispanic workers make up 29% of the American workforce.

But they’re underrepresented in high-paying fields, holding only 11% of science and engineering jobs and just over 22% of positions in the financial sector.

Firms that only hire college interns will struggle to achieve a more diverse workplace. That’s because many children of color face structural barriers that prevent them from attending and graduating college.

“More than 60% of the racial gap in college completion rates can be attributed to factors that occur before college,” according to New York University.

In other words, employers who only recruit college interns likely end up drawing from a homogenous applicant pool.

Boosting diversity makes companies more profitable. According to a recent analysis by McKinsey, ethnically diverse firms are 35% more likely to financially outperform the national median firm in their industries.

These internships benefit high schoolers too, of course.

Consider an analysis of the Urban Alliance’s High School Internship Program, which provides career training, internships, and mentorship to at-risk students in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Young men who completed the program were more likely to attend college than their counterparts.

When these former high school interns land their first job, they earn higher wages. Students who complete certain high school internship programs land starting salaries that are 11% higher, on average, than students who don’t partake in such programs.

Today’s employers complain that their workforces lack diversity and soft skills. Fortunately, firms can fix this problem themselves. The solution is sitting in a high school homeroom right now.

Hoye is the president of NAF.