By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For many teenagers, spring means it is time to start hunting for a summer job. And new numbers show they will have plenty to pick from.

In April, United States employers added some 164,000 jobs. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 18 years.

But studies suggest once young workers get a job in the service industry, they struggle keeping it or moving up.

While customers browse for Good Things at the shop of the same name in White Bear Lake, manager Nancy Mason says she is asked the same question by young workers at least a few times a day.

“It was like May 1, they just started to walk through the door and say, ‘Are you hiring?'” Mason said. “I would say it is harder right now to find good help.”

Mason says she makes up her mind whether or not she will make a hire within two minutes of the first meeting.

(credit: CBS)

“The first thing I’m looking for is someone who can look me in the eye and talk to me,” Mason said.

Research shows those skills are harder to come by than you might realize.

Employers and parents agree that patience, teamwork, communication and perseverance — known as soft skills — are lacking in younger workers.

In another study by Career Builder, 77 percent of surveyed employers put soft skills on the same level of importance as cognitive skills like math or science.

University of St. Thomas Assistant Professor Tyler Schipper says our digital world has drawn a new generation inward.

“You have the person in the office who’s running all the numbers, but we also need that person that’s going to say, ‘Hey, here’s what those numbers mean,’ and presenting that to upper management,” Schipper said.

Still, companies consistently rank other strengths ahead of computer coding or speaking a foreign language.

“Good communication skills, the ability to write, the ability to think critically,” Schipper said. “Those are absolutely soft skills that I think a lot of teenagers are going to undervalue because they don’t necessarily see how that’s going to show up on a future resume.”

It is why Schipper suggests that young workers stick it out and practice making a connection — just as Mason’s teenage workers do, usually on check-out duty for a reason.

“They’re faster, they’re better at it, they just instinctively know how to solve their own problems on a computer,” Mason said.

Studies also show fewer teenagers are wanting to work. Many parents want their kids to volunteer or sign up for other activities to pad a college resume for scholarships.

Many college-aged kids don’t work either, spending time instead on their studies.

Liz Collin