by Kirk Koennecke, Superintendent Graham Local Schools
Lost in news about workforce availability, recessionary economics & restrained government funding is an essential truth that can transform urban and rural America, one student at a time. We have all wanted to be treated like “adults” and we have all gone through Rights of passage in our lives. Who decided 18 was the magic number for the workforce? Does anyone know anymore?
The legal “age of majority” has been set into laws and adjusted since the 1870’s, and has been considered 18 now for well over 45 years. If it could be lowered before, why not now? Don’t historical demands on our economy and socio-political trends that affect the U.S. matter now as much as they have in other eras? The Ohio Department of education has actually added a new portion to the state report card to judge graduates “preparedness” to enter the workforce, college, or the military. Can’t our government provide more flexibility for schools as another unfunded mandate is thrust upon us?
By allowing half of the eligible teenagers under 18 to earn even $8 hourly, working part-time, this country could have been injecting another 1.6 Billion consumer dollars into our local economies and driving more production and more profits for businesses in high-demand industries over the past decade.
In many states there are no hourly restrictions on the number of hours 16 & 17 year olds may work, yet these same states have antiquated occupational barriers in place keeping 17 year olds from doing exactly the work America demands of them in schools, and that our country needs right now in industries such as carpentry, machine trades, manufacturing, roofing, and operating power equipment.
Forget about hi-tech for a moment, how about necessary labor? We should trust a teenager to drive a car and make money at the same time, hammer a nail, and weld and form metal after they have taken hours of certification courses in school, before they graduate. There are over 20 Million teenagers working in America now. In the past year the youth labor force grew another 600,000. There are another 275,000 16-17 year olds unemployed in this country, and for the majority of them, this is not by choice, it’s because they can only find seasonal jobs in retail, hospitality, or educational temp jobs. As the national drop-out rate has gone down for over a decade, the number of eligible “qualified workers” has not increased.
Abby Urquhart is a 17 year old junior at Graham High School in Saint Pairs Ohio. She walked into the city government building and asked to volunteer. She now works 3 days a week for various hours, saving Saint Paris countless thousands of dollars in man hours and salary for the benefit of the citizens of that town. Why did she have to ask? Why aren’t we doing more for Abby? At the Graham local schools our mission is to provide adaptive and flexible learning opportunities for students like Abby, and to work with community partners like local government agencies, businesses, and other organizations to find new job ready certifications, internship and apprentice roles, and jobs for Graham’s high school students.
As a school administrator I am asked constantly by community members and educators alike to build partnerships and connect members to our 17 year olds, and to promote career education in our state. Harnessing their ideas and work ethic, along with recruiting their personal talents, should be the goal of every business man and woman in America. Let’s harness tomorrow’s workforce today, and realize the power of 17.