First Jobs A Critical First Step To A Successful Career

By Bill Thorne, Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at the National Retail Federation and a member of the Path Forward Coalition.

Most people remember their first job, and not just for the extra dollars it put in their pockets. We remember it because for many of us it was the time when we began to develop a sense of professional responsibility and workplace habits that would serve us throughout our working lives. With youth unemployment higher than 10 percent last month — and almost twice that in some disadvantaged neighborhoods — too many young people are being denied that critical first working experience that will help prepare them for successful careers.

In order to address this problematic trend, the White House recently announced the #FirstJob Hiring and Recruiting Compact, a public-private partnership created to increase employment of out-of-school and out-of-work young people. It’s part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to expand opportunities for at-risk youth. Some of the largest U.S. companies have joined the #First Job Compact. They include AT&T, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Dollar General, FedEx, Gap, Goodwill Industries, Hilton Worldwide, McDonald’s, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Sears, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Walmart as well as hundreds of smaller companies. We enthusiastically endorse the #FirstJob Compact.

The service sector provides more entry-level jobs than any other sector of the economy. For one third of Americans, their first job was in a retail or restaurant business. Through these jobs, they learned vital skills and knowledge, responsibility and the importance of a good work ethic. They learned how to balance personal and professional responsibilities, how to multitask and meet clearly defined goals, how to communicate clearly and resolve differences with colleagues. The experience and confidence they acquire help them open doors to opportunities within and outside the service sector.

Those are the skills, work habits and starting opportunities that service industry businesses have been offering for years, and that will gain enhanced attention by the #FirstJob Compact. This program is committed to offering hope and opportunity for young people living in challenging circumstances by sharing best practices for recruiting, hiring and training. They include job training and education programs designed by some of the most successful companies in America.

Participating companies will locate jobs and internships for young people with little or no experience, and work with nonprofits, school districts and organizations such as My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and Grads for Life to identify and recruit young men and women to fill them. They’ll support them with training and experiences that give them the skills and opportunities to advance. They’ll track their progress to determine which programs are working well and which are not, and share the results with each other and the public.

One in seven Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 aren’t in school and don’t have a job, a population that is disproportionately comprised of young men of color. Those who experience a significant spell of unemployment between those ages typically earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less over the course of their working lives. Many face the depressing prospect of a lifetime of struggle and the hopelessness of chronic unemployment.

America can do better than that. Ours is the biggest, most productive, diversified and dynamic economy in the world, an economy that can support the hopes and dreams of all of us.

Young people in every community in America ought to grow up knowing they will have the chance to succeed in life, to go as far as their talent will take them. They shouldn’t expect to be ignored by public institutions meant to serve them or by private enterprise that can offer them the chance for a better life.

A job is more than a paycheck. It can give hope, dignity, and confidence to individuals who grew up without them and who, as young men and women, think careers are something that other people have, and the best they can hope for is a job without a future.

The service industry has helped many young Americans take the first step on the ladder of upward mobility. Retailers and restaurant owners are excited by the prospect of giving more young people that first, important opportunity and with it the skills, experience, work habits and education that will support their aspirations and speed their progress.