Need a Summer Job? Consider Alternatives!

With teen unemployment at a high, it makes sense to take your destiny in your own hands and start a business.
This story appears in the July 2003 issue of Startups. Subscribe »
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(YoungBiz) - Can't find a summer job? You're not alone! Thousands of teens ages 16 to 19 who were planning to work this summer have found the doors to employment slammed shut in their faces due to the high competition for existing jobs and a slow economy.

Polls say that 80 percent of U.S. teens went out and applied for jobs, but nearly 25 percent of those still remain unemployed this summer. In fact, the teen unemployment rate is now more than three times higher than the overall U.S. jobless rate of 6.1 percent.

Just take a look at how the unemployment rates for teens have steadily increased over the past three summers (according to the Employment Policy Foundation):

YearTeen Unemployment Rate
200013.4 percent
200115.7 percent
200216.9 percent
200318.5 percent

It's a tough economy, and it has been for a while. Fewer companies are hiring summer workers. And adults with more experience are competing for positions normally filled by high school and college students. Most teens who did succeed in getting summer employment this year say they started looking in early spring and often had to put in dozens of applications in order to hit pay dirt.

So if you're still sitting at home, maybe it's time to consider other alternatives--like starting your own business. This experience will look great on future job and college applications. And it will give you a chance to learn considerably more about business than you would ever learn taking tickets at the local movie theater or scooping ice cream at the mall.

The good news is that hundreds of teens have already proved that self-employment can be a profitable alternative to a traditional part-time job. Take Longview, Texas, teen Shanetta Drake-Pruitt, for example. Two years ago, she couldn't find a part-time job, so she used her skills as a seamstress to sew up some cute nap mats for toddlers at day-care centers. The parents and day-care owners liked the mat covers, matching sheets, pillowcases and blankets so much that Drake-Pruitt decided to start Nett's Nap Mats, which sells specialty bedding products that aren't found in typical local stores.

Last year, 17-year-old Drake-Pruitt brought in more than $50,000 in sales. Her business grew so large that she had to move it out of her home and into a large workshop. As a result, she was recently awarded the title of Texas Young Entrepreneur of the Year by Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth. The prize included a $5,000 scholarship to the college of her choice--a reward that never would have come her way if she had gotten the part-time job she wanted.

"I love being my own boss," says Drake-Pruitt. "It's taught me to be more responsible, and I've learned important skills in managing money and dealing with people." She has also gained valuable experience in marketing, business development and time management.

Your Marketable Skills
If running your own business sounds like a good way to solve your summer employment needs, use Nett's Nap Mats as a pattern for success:

1. First, consider your personal skills, interests and talents that might be turned into a business. Drake-Pruitt learned to sew when she was in grade school and loves the type of work she chose for her business.

2. Next, look around your neighborhood for needs your skills might fill. By talking to mothers with children in day care, Drake-Pruitt discovered a need for custom-fitted nap mat covers. Make a sample of your product or do a test run of your service to see how customers respond. Drake-Pruitt made one nap mat cover for a friend of the family. When other mothers saw the quality of her work, they wanted mat covers, too.

3. Find out if there is enough demand in the market to support your business. Drake-Pruitt called all the local day-care centers and asked if they needed nap mat covers. Their enthusiastic responses told her the business had a good chance of success.

4. Start small and grow gradually. Drake-Pruitt started the business in her home and invested only enough money to create a beginning inventory of nap mats. As the beginning inventory sold, she invested the profits back into more supplies and equipment.

5. Realize that business always has a degree of risk, but with the risk comes reward. Drake-Pruitt had to step out in faith and convince the world that a teen could be a responsible business owner, but she has reaped many rewards for her innovative thinking.

Learn more about starting a teen-owned business by reading And when you're business gets rolling, send us an e-mail about your venture. Perhaps next summer, we'll be telling our readers to follow your successful example if they can't find a good summer job.

Next Step
  • Visit to read "Students Prize an Enterprising Summer," an article that features more students who have solved their summer job needs by starting their own businesses.
  • Think it takes months or years to start a summer business? Not so! Check out Y&E magazine's seven-day start-up plan for teen entrepreneurs.
Edition: October 2016

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