What High Schoolers Want from a Job

Working with every new generation that enters the workforce is challenging. As an organization, blending the mindsets and values of diverse individuals into a well-oiled collaborative machine is no small feat. BUT it can be done.

I had the opportunity to interview nine high school students to gain valuable insights into their unique perspectives when it comes to work and the employer/employee relationship. While the particular client that requested the interviews was a senior care organization, I found that the students’ input sheds light on several topics of interest for employers across all industries, as we discussed their priorities and motivators for finding and keeping a job.

If you’ve ever started a sentence with, “Well, back in my day…”, watch the video and then keep reading. These insights may help.

Here are a few big takeaways from the interviews:

  1. Schoolwork and friends are top priorities: It’s important to remember that school is a “full-time job” for students. They are there for about 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, with homework to complete afterward. It comes as no surprise then that high school students prioritize their schoolwork and social lives over any outside job they have. Their primary focus is on passing their classes and spending time with friends, which can often make balancing work commitments challenging. Understanding that work is NOT their top priority is crucial for employers seeking to engage high school students.
  1. High schoolers want to be supplemental support staff, not key members of a shift: Our interviews revealed that most high schoolers prefer to help key staff members while at work rather than being relied on as key staff members required to effectively run a shift. They fear they could look bad or let their team down if they have to call off due to excessive homework assignments or rescheduled extracurricular activities. By recognizing this preference and allowing for more flexibility, organizations can better align their scheduling approach with the needs of these young workers for a win-win scenario to cover shifts.
  1. Supporting mental health concerns is a must: High schoolers are acutely aware of today’s value of focusing on one’s mental health, for employees of all ages. In fact, after seeing so many of their older colleagues become overworked and burned out in recent years, it’s a positive move that our workforce is advocating for their own health in various ways. Organizational leaders should not poke fun at staff requests for mental health days off and should be prepared to listen and empathize with team members who need an ear during difficult times in their lives. The new workforce values their emotional well-being and seeks out environments that support and protect it.
  1. Recognize which roles are now seen as stepping stones: Many high school students view entry-level roles as stepping stones into various professional fields rather than long-term career choices where they plan to stay. Rather than being frustrated by the revolving door, this perspective highlights an opportunity for organizations to position themselves as a valuable starting point for young individuals if a great onboarding and mentoring program is put into place. Embracing this approach can be extremely effective for attracting more talent over time, which can ultimately create a more sustainable operation.
  1. Pay is again a higher priority: Compared to the previous generation of Millennials who valued the mission and purpose of an organization, GenZ high schoolers place a higher emphasis on pay today. They recognize the value of their time, including the sacrifices they must make to go to work, and they expect fair compensation for their efforts in order to advance their lives and gain financial independence. (Can you blame them?) Organizations must continue to reevaluate the true competitiveness of their wages to attract and retain talented high school students moving forward.

Understanding the perspective, priorities, and preferences of high school students in the workforce is vital for organizations looking to attract and retain young talent. By implementing more flexible scheduling options, acknowledging the importance of mental health, and providing fair compensation, companies can create an environment that supports both the professional growth of high schoolers and the customers they serve. Together, we can cultivate a symbiotic relationship between these young individuals and the work world, fostering a brighter future for all.

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