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Helping Teens Get a Job: What Parents Should Know

Learn about youth employment law in Michigan, tips to help kids during an interview and school-based options that could get them a career jump, too

Hitting the mall, seeing movies, ordering pizza with friends. Let's face it: Teens like to do things that cost money. But someone's got to foot those bills, and at a certain point parents have had enough – and want their kids to at least chip in to pay for their pursuits. Bottom line: Teens need a job.

"Having a job definitely benefits students," says Barbara Clift, co-op, job and volunteer coordinator at Novi High School. "They learn things at work that they could never learn in the classroom – how to handle difficult customers, how to prioritize, how to take charge, and they gain confidence and communication skills."

If your teen is ready to look for a part-time job, here are some things you should know.

The legal ropes

The minimum age of employment for most jobs is 14 years of age, according to the state of Michigan's wage and hour division. They cannot work more than three hours on a school day, more than 18 hours a week or past 7 p.m. while school is in session, according the YouthRules! federal law site.

Jobs for 14- and 15-year-olds may include retail gigs, running errands by foot or bike, yard work, some food service or being a lifeguard in the summer months (that last one applies to 15-year-olds only, who meet certain criteria).

Under certain conditions, some children who are younger (ages 11 and up) may be able to work as a golf caddy or sports referee.

Landing a job

"What helps a student get hired is a prepared resume and dressing up. The interview is so important, and the first five minutes are the most significant," says Clift. "I tell students to never ask what they will be paid and never talk badly about a teacher or former boss. They need to smile, be friendly, shake hands and have eye contact. At the end of the interview, they should thank the employer and then send a thank you email when they get home."

A work permit needs to be filled out before a teenager can be employed. The employer will complete the form and the student needs to take it to his or her school district for approval.

There are a few exemptions from the work permit law, notes Michigan state law. If the teen works at a parent-owned business or is a co-op student (cooperative education is employment under a contract between the employer and school board), a work permit in unnecessary.

School options for students

For example, the William D. Ford Career Technical Center in Westland offers 18 programs that juniors and seniors can participate in during the school day. It is free to students, and they can choose the program that mirrors their career aspirations. Programs vary from graphic design to auto body repair, culinary arts/hospitality to childcare and construction technology to health occupations.

"Businesses come here and tell us what they're looking and we apply them to our programs," says Steven Kay, principal of the tech center. "We prepare students to work hands-on. They also learn the responsibilities of jobs, like being on time and applying their best effort. Learning how to function in a workplace at an early age complements a student's learning."

Benefits

Having a job can be beneficial for teenagers. It's a time when kids are building self-esteem and realizing their abilities and potential, says Clift, and a job can help in that effort.

"Students come in my office nervous and not making eye contact with me," says Clift. "After I place them in a job, it changes. They become confident and have amazing people skills. They realize, 'Hey! I'm really good at this!' and it increases their self-esteem."

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