A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Time to Start Thinking About Summer Jobs

The following article was authored by Dan Gilbane and was originally published in the Houston Chronicle.

Houston is on the cusp of spring and that’s when young people begin counting the days to summer vacation. For many, summertime means lazy days at the pool or a day-trip to the beach and, for many, that first summer job.

The summer job experience offers valuable lessons to our youth. Unfortunately, fewer young people today are getting that experience. Over the past decade, the summer youth employment rate has declined nearly 40 percent across the country. Right here in Houston, statistics show that close to 10,000 young people will be looking for paid work this summer. We need to give them that opportunity.

This is the time for Houston companies to develop summer jobs program and begin hiring local youth.

The benefits of a summer job are immense. Young people who have been employed are more likely to stay in and graduate from high school. Work experience during high school also increases annual earnings by 14 to 16 percent for every year of work through age 26.

From experience at our construction and real estate development company, summer interns are our best source of full-time hires. With more 100 interns in our organization, we convert many them to permanent employees each year, and many of our company’s emerging leaders started as interns, including 12 emerging leaders here in Houston. One of those Houston leaders, Jim Springer, is a 37-year Gilbane veteran and vice president.

Internships provide a trial-run to see how young people pick up the necessary skills and fit into a company’s culture. Interns are a talent pipeline for our workforce, fill temporary vacancies, address real business needs and increase diversity.

Young people are also exposed to industries and careers they may have never considered or have misperceptions. During summer internships at Gilbane, students discover that while they have to wear a hard-hat and work boots on many days, it’s a very tech-forward, process-driven field that utilizes multiple digital platforms to get the job done. When you list those skills on your resume, it shows potential employers you’re going to hit the ground running — even in another field.

Internships also instill a strong work ethic in young people. One summer I worked as a laborer on a project to build several dormitories on a university campus and came away with a broader understanding of construction. I also ended up living in one of those dorms as a student.

The reality is that for many youth, this is the first time they will be exposed to a corporate environment. Internships plant the seed for higher ambition, while teaching the value of attendance, punctuality, speaking and listening, teamwork and accepting direction and criticism.

It’s been gratifying to give talented young people what is often their first exposure to a corporate workplace and see them go on to succeed wherever their interests take them.

My message to local business leaders: Your involvement is essential to building tomorrow’s workforce. Without opportunities such as the Mayor’s Hire Houston Youth program or your own summer programs, our youth will languish and our talent pipeline will dry up. It’s up to each of us to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Gilbane is the division leader for Gilbane Building Company’s Southwest Division. He serves on the board and executive committee of the Greater Houston Partnership and as chair of the organization’s UpSkill Houston workforce development program.