I've written in the past on the YALSAblog about the programs we provide in my library that help teens to grow up successfully. The recently published Kids Count data book re-affirmed for me the importance of what we are doing at my library and the positive impact our work has on teens.
The Kids Count data points to some opportunities for libraries to help teens succeed. For example, data shows there is lack of job skills for those aged 16-24. This makes me think that one thing the library can do is to provide robust opportunities, such as a strong volunteer program, so that teens can gain and sharpen these skills.
What can you do in a volunteer program to help teens gain the necessary skills?
- Have a somewhat competitve application process that includes interviewing all teens that apply. This way teens learn how to take part in a job interview and learn how to handle acceptance or rejection.
- Know the goals you have set out for the program, let teens know what the goals are, and provide opportunities for teens to meet them. That can help teens understand job responsibilities, duties, and even job descriptions.
- Hold teens accountable. You can't walk in 30 minutes late to your job without a very good reason. Don't let a teen get away with irresponsible behavior. That will help to prepare them for being responsible in the real-life work world.
- Ask for ongoing feedback from teens on what could improve in the program. They'll be your best critics! And you will give them a chance to evaluate and analyze.
- Help showcase teen work to a larger audience. For example, through the libray's social networks. It's important to try and connect what teens are doing at your library with the larger library community. This way others learn about the great work teens are involved in and teens get a chance to show how they are preparing for the work world.
You will definitely want to evaluate whether or not teens gained job skills as a part of your volunteer program. There are a variety of tools you can use to help in this. The U.S. Government's Howto.gov site is a great resource in getting started with survey questions to help learn about change over time.
Don't be afraid to connect with teens to help them prepare for their future work lives. You can do it by thinking through the goals of what you are doing and how you can look at what happens in your program that leads to success. When you survey teens you might find at first that things didn't work out as you planned. That's OK, analyze your outcomes, think of them as opportunities, and then try try again. That's a work skill for all library staff and one we can demonstrate to teens too.